Sexual assault accusations put protest artist Pyotr Pavlensky and political theater group Teatr.doc at odds despite common cause

Allegations of sexual assault have pitted Russias boldest political artist, Pyotr Pavlensky, against its boldest political theater group, Teatr.doc, dividing public opinion this week.

The regime wants to remove Pavlensky, read the headline of an opinion piece on the website of Snob magazine. Pavlensky is no martyr, read another on the same site.

Pavlensky, renowned for stunts such as nailing his scrotum to Red Square and cutting off his earlobe to protest against what he calls a brutal police state, said on Monday that he had fled Russia after being detained and questioned for nine hours over an alleged sexual assault.

The complaint, also concerning his partner Oksana Shalygina, was filed by the actor Anastasia Slonina in December. Slonina regularly seems at Teatr.doc. The theatre company has repeatedly been evicted by authorities after running plays ridiculing Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

On Tuesday, police opened a separate criminal case for battery against Pavlensky, the state news organization TASS reported, over international disputes he had with Sloninas one-time boyfriend, the actor Vasily Berezin, in October.

Pavlensky and members of the theatre has hitherto accused Berezin of abusing Slonina.

Pavlensky admitted to the Guardian that he reached Berezin during a confrontation at the theater, but denied that he was the attacker shown in a security camera video uploaded by the Teatr.doc director Yelena Gremina. In the video, one man makes another man several times and kicks him as another person holds him on the ground.

The artist also admitted he and Shalygina had intimate relations with Slonina once in December, but denied the sexual assault allegations.

There was no violence , nothing even close, and we left as friends, Pavlensky told, and accused Slonina of working with the authorities to frame him.

But members of Teatr.doc have defended the actor and denounced Pavlensky, who has previously worked with the theatre.

Vsevolod Lisovsky, a director at Teatr.doc, said he brought Slonina to the police the day after her night with Pavlensky and Shalygina where she spoke to investigators for more than five hours. Slonina declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian.

Pavlensky and Teatr.doc are both darlings of the liberal intelligentsia and the news triggered a fierce debate online.

Some told Pavlensky was being put in and provoked, while others accused the artist of using the narrative to cover up his abuse.

A few accused Pavlensky, who in 2015 demanded the harshest possible sentence after he set fire to the doors of the FSB in a political stunt, of betraying his professed ideals by fleeing the country.

Pavlensky said he wasnt willing to go to prison this time because he didnt actually commit the crime, and he was worried their two young daughters would be sent to an orphanage if he and Shalygina were convicted.

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