The artist who fled Russia after authorities seized his paintings depicting President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women’s underwear began taking steps to claim permanent asylum in France.
“I don’t want to return to Russia,” Konstantin Altunin said in a phone interview from Paris. “I want to live and work in an atmosphere of freedom.”
Alexander Donskoy, the owner of the Museum of Power gallery in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, said today he has been unable to secure an attorney to help retrieve the paintings, which have gone missing, after 20 lawyers rejected requests to represent the gallery.
Putin who hosts the Group of 20 nations in his hometown St. Petersburg on Sept. 5-6, is being accused of stamping down on opposition movements, human rights and freedom of speech in Russia. He signed a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors in July, while three members of the all-female punk group Pussy Riot were convicted of hooliganism and inciting religious hatred last year for lip-syncing a song critical of Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral.
Donskoy said in an interview today that authorities who raided his premises left no documentation after they took four works by Altunin. He doesn’t “believe the artworks could be returned” because he found no trace of them at police headquarters.
The Interior Ministry’s St. Petersburg unit said in a statement on its website on Aug. 27 that police officials would study the seized paintings to determine if they violate the law.
Altunin, who fled the country on Aug. 27, has started to collect the documents needed to claim political Asylum in France because he fears he would be arrested if he returns, he said by phone from Paris.
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