Russian performance artist and political activist Pyotr Pavlensky faced court for setting fire to an office of France's central bank (Banque de France) in Paris on Thursday.

As the hearing opened, Pavlensky reportedly defied court procedures, prompting an altercation with the translator.

Pavlensky is accused of causing property damage and vandalising state heritage at the risk of endangering others.

He has defended his act as artistic expression, denouncing the Banque de France, which is located on the grounds formerly occupied by the Bastille, and arguing that "the bankers taken the place of monarchs."

If convicted, Pavlensky could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Pavlensky spent nearly a year in pre-trial detention. Pavlensky and his partner Olga Shalygina were granted political asylum in France in May 2017 after fleeing Russia in January of that year.

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