Zhukov case: Young symbol of Russian opposition avoids jail

Europe

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Media captionYegor Zhukov among supporters outside a Moscow court

A popular young Russian opposition activist has been convicted in Moscow of “inciting extremism” for political blogs he posted years ago.

But Yegor Zhukov, 21, received a suspended sentence of three years.

A leading figure in recent opposition protests, he said in court that the authorities only respected “autocracy”.

In a message that went viral on Russian social media, Zhukov called for a society “filled with responsible and loving people”.

Thousands of people, including some celebrities, rallied to his cause.

The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow says the verdict is as close as you get to “not guilty” in Russian courts these days.

The judge also barred him from running websites for two years.

Crackdown on opposition

A popular rapper, Oxxxymiron, joined Zhukov’s many fans and offered to stand bail for him to the tune of 2m roubles (£24,000; $31,000).

The street protests by thousands in July-August sought to reinstate opposition candidates barred from running in September elections to the Moscow city parliament. Hundreds of protesters were detained and 27 got prison terms.

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Media captionWhat’s behind this summer’s Moscow protests?

President Vladimir Putin dominates the Russian political scene, with a largely pro-Putin parliament, a powerful presidential administration and state-influenced media channels.

Zhukov, a libertarian activist, has a blog on the popular Russian social network VKontakte and a YouTube channel with 155,000 followers.

He is an award-winning student at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE).

Zhukov had initially been charged with directing street protests, but that charge was dropped in September for lack of evidence.

More than 3,000 HSE faculty members, students and graduates signed a letter of support for him, and a similar letter was signed by more than 2,000 Russian academics.

The chair of the presidential committee for civil society and human rights, Valery Fadeyev, had also asked the judiciary to show leniency towards Zhukov, “a young, energetic and gifted man”.

Prosecutors had called for a four-year prison sentence for Zhukov.

In his closing statement on Wednesday, quoted by the Moscow Times, Zhukov told the court that “the only traditional value that the current Russian state truly honours and strengthens is autocracy.

“Autocracy that tries to break the life of anyone who sincerely wishes the best for their homeland, who doesn’t hesitate to love and take responsibility,” he said.

“I look ahead beyond the horizon of the years, and I see a Russia filled with responsible and loving people. This will be a truly happy place. Let everyone imagine this kind of Russia. And let this image drive you and your activities in the same way that it drives me,” he added.

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