The artist is accused of sexual assault in his home country.

Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky says he plans to apply to French authorities for political asylum. He and his family moved to Ukraine last month to avoid prosecution in connection with trumped-up rape charges.

Pavlensky said in his first interview after the escape that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s power is becoming more authoritarian. He compared the situation in today’s Russia to denunciations of artists widespread in the Soviet Union.

“I wouldn’t say I was a threat to the authorities. I was more like a big inconvenience, because they spend much money and resources on propaganda. I carry out a performance, and it hits the propaganda machine,” the artist says.

Before the couple fled to Ukraine, law-enforcers were questioning Petr Pavlensky and his partner Oksana Shalygina for nine hours in connection with sexual assault allegations. They don’t known for sure if a criminal case was launched. They and their two daughters left the country for fear of being prosecuted. Pavlensky says his family will fly from Ukraine to France to ask for political asylum there. The artist stresses neither he nor his family will return to Russia until they are no longer at risk of prosecution.

A trial over another case against the artist ended in June last year. Petr Pavlensky was charged with vandalism and later with damaging objects of cultural heritage or cultural values for his performance “Threat”, when he set fire to the doors of the FSB headquarters in Lubyanka Square. He wanted to “throw down a gauntlet in the face of the terrorist threat” on behalf of society. By the “terrorist threat” Pavlensky meant the methods of Russia’s main secret service. The artist was arrested and held in custody during the investigation. He was fined, ordered to compensate for the damage caused to the FSB building and freed at the beginning of June.

Pavlensky’s other performances include sewing his mouth shut in front of Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to support Pussy Riot group; cutting off his earlobe on the fence of a psychiatric hospital in Moscow to protest against political abuse of psychiatry; nailing his scrotum to the stone pavement near the Kremlin in Moscow to show “apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of Russian society”.

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