A Russian artist granted political asylum in France was sentenced to three years in prison by a Paris court on Thursday for an art performance that involved setting fire to a bank.
Pyotr Pavlensky, 34, has become notorious in Europe for his dramatic acts of protest. In 2012, he sewed his lips shut in response to the jailing of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot. The following year, he nailed his scrotum to the pavement of Red Square in Moscow. He said he was making a statement about political apathy in Russia.
The conviction on Thursday related to a 2017 performance called “Lightning,” in which Mr. Pavlensky and his then partner, Oksana Shalygina, set fire to a building of the Banque de France, the country’s central bank, on the Place de la Bastille square in central Paris.
“The Banque de France has taken the place of the Bastille, and bankers have taken the place of monarchs,” he said at the time. The Bastille prison, which the square is named after, was stormed by rebels in a key moment in the French Revolution of 1789.
The Russian newspaper Gazeta reported that at Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Pavlensky made a statement to the court in Russian that he was dedicating the trial to the Marquis de Sade, the 18th-century French nobleman and revolutionary known for his libidinous antics and writings that broke sexual taboos.
“The only thing I want is for the Banque de France to be moved from the Place de la Bastille. And long live the yellow vests,” he added, according to the newspaper Le Figaro, referring to the leaderless protest movement that has sprung up in France initially to protest rising gas prices.
The judge said he had sympathy for the need for freedom of artistic expression, but that “Lightning” had been dangerous.
Mr. Pavlensky will not serve any time in prison as he was on remand for 11 months, and two years of his sentence are suspended. Ms. Shalygina was sentenced to two years in prison, 16 months of which were suspended. She was also immediately released.
Mr. Pavlensky and Ms. Shalygina were ordered to pay around $25,000 compensation to the Banque de France in damages. According to Le Figaro, in response, Mr. Pavlensky replied “Never!”