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Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky detained for torching security service headquarters door
Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky poses after setting fire to the doors of the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, in central Moscow early on November 9, 2015. Russian authorities on November 9 detained a performance artist best known for nailing his scrotum to Red Square after he torched the doors of the headquarters of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, Interfax news agency reported. AFP PHOTO / NIGINA BEROEVA.

By: Anna Malpas

MOSCOW (AFP).- Russia on Monday detained a political performance artist best known for nailing his scrotum to Red Square after he torched the doors to the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB.

Pyotr Pavlensky set fire to the wooden doors of the sprawling FSB building in downtown Moscow around 1:00am (Sunday 2200 GMT), his lawyer Olga Chavdar told AFP from the Moscow police station where he was being held.

Police later opened a criminal investigation into vandalism for political reasons over the incident, a Moscow police spokesman told AFP.

If charged and found guilty of vandalism -- defiling or damaging property -- Pavlensky could face up to three years in prison.

A video posted online on Pavlensky's social media account shows flames leaping to the top of the doorway as the artist stands in front of it holding a petrol canister, before a policeman comes running up.

The video titled "The Burning Door of the Lubyanka" -- referring to the popular name for the symbolic security service headquarters -- can be viewed here:

In a message released with the video, Pavlensky said: "The FSB acts using a method of unending terror and holds power over 146 million people."

The FSB headquarters, which take up an entire block, were used by Soviet-era secret police for interrogations, jailing opponents and extra-judicial killings. 

President Vladimir Putin briefly headed the FSB and was a KGB agent during the Soviet era.

Pavlensky's lawyer said the FSB questioned the activist and asked him whether he had intended to kill anyone.

"He was detained at 1:00am after which he was in the FSB headquarters, where they insistently asked him whose death he wanted," she said.

"He told them 'What are you saying? I don't want anyone's death'," she said, adding that no one was on the street at the time except Pavlensky and two journalists.

"We intend to use the right not to give testimony," she said after the vandalism probe was announced.

The question of whether to detain Pavlensky in jail pending the investigation would be decided later Monday or Tuesday, she said.

-- 'Fight for life' --Pavlensky accused the FSB of "terrorism" and said that "the threat of inevitable reprisals hangs over everyone within the range of security cameras, phone-tapping and passport control borders."

He called the performance a "reflex to fight for my own life."

Two journalists who watched were questioned before being released, reported the Dozhd independent channel.

Pavlensky in 2013 stripped naked and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square to protest against tight police control. The case was eventually closed due to the lack of any crime.

He has already been charged with vandalism for another performance called Freedom, held in Saint Petersburg last year.

During that action, he and other activists set fire to tyres and waved a Ukrainian flag to simulate the Maidan protests in Kiev that led to the ouster of a pro-Moscow leader. 

In other shocking performances to highlight a lack of civil freedoms, Pavlensky has sewn up his lips, wrapped himself in barbed wire and cut off part of his earlobe.

Russian artists who carry out political stunts usually serve up to 15 days in police cells for petty hooliganism, but can face much higher sentences.

Two members of Pussy Riot in 2012 were sentenced to two years for hooliganism after their performance in a church protesting against close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin.

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova praised Pavlensky in a tweet on Monday as "the brains, the conscience and the balls of our era."

The performance exposed the lack of guards around Russia's formidable security agency.

"Someone comes up with a can of petrol, pours it out, lights it and calmly poses for photographs... and all the reaction we see is a lone, unfortunate traffic cop shouting 'hold him!'" wrote commentator Arkady Babchenko on Echo of Moscow radio station's website.

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

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