Russian artist Pavlensky 'to seek French asylum' amid sex claim

File pic of Petr Pavlensky (by Sarah Rainsford)
Image caption Pavlensky and his partner say they were questioned for seven hours before being freed

Russian shock artist Petr Pavlensky, whose work has included nailing himself to Red Square by the scrotum, has said he has fled the country.

He and his partner have been accused of "violent action of a sexual nature", he told the BBC from France.

He insisted the allegation was false and argued that it was intended to get rid of him.

Pavlensky, 32, who calls himself a political artist, has faced criminal charges several times for his work.

Most recently he spent seven months behind bars after torching the door of Russia's intelligence agency.

Seven hours of questioning

He and partner Oksana Shalygina were detained by police last month at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport as they returned home.

Under questioning, they learned that an actress they had been involved with had accused them of a sex crime. Officials have confirmed an investigation is under way.

"There was nothing at all even remotely resembling violence. Of course not," the artist told the BBC, adding that the couple - who have an open relationship - learned of the accusation whilst abroad.

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Media captionPetr Pavlensky set fire to the door of the FSB, Russia's security service

"We had a warning... that the police were looking for us. But we had no reason to take it seriously, so we ignored it. Then when they met us at the airport they revealed how serious their intentions were," he said. The charge carries a 10-year prison sentence.

The couple were questioned for some seven hours then freed pending investigation. They took that as a clear hint to leave the country and drove to Ukraine before flying on to France with their children.

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Image caption Pavlensky and partner Oksana Shalygina drove to Ukraine before travelling on to France

The artist came to prominence when he sewed his lips together in support of anti-Kremlin punk group Pussy Riot.

He has since nailed himself to Red Square, wrapped himself in barbed wire and lopped off an earlobe while sitting naked on the wall of a psychiatric institute.

Since his release from jail last summer he believes he has been under surveillance; he also suggested that ill-wishers had tried to spur him on to more radical action, which he saw as a trick.

He insisted that the charge of sexual assault was also politically motivated.

"Of course they want to get rid of what gets in their way," he said. "We think they were showing us that we had two options. Either we would be liquidated from the political context, in a regime prison. Or we could leave the country," the artist said.

Staff at drama company Teatr.doc - known for its liberal, opposition agenda - have defended the actress involved, dismissing any suggestion that she's some kind of agent for Russia's intelligence services.

They also allege that the artist had previously beaten up her boyfriend, and have released CCTV footage of an incident.

Petr Pavlensky said he planned to ask for political asylum in France if formal charges are eventually brought.

"I have no desire to return like a lamb to the slaughter," the artist told the BBC by phone. "Especially a slaughter that is desired, by the state."

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