Moscow police swoop on home of jailed student activist

Political blogger Yegor Zhukov one of 14 defendants held for organising ‘mass disorder’

As hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Moscow to demand an end to political repression on Saturday, Russian police swooped on the flat of a jailed student activist seeking fresh evidence in a highly contentious mass rioting case.

Yegor Zhukov, an undergraduate at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and a popular political blogger, is one of 14 defendants being held for organising “mass disorder” at peaceful protests that have taken place in the city this summer to demand free and fair elections.

Kremlin critics say investigators have cooked up the “Moscow case” to discourage political activism and sow fear among the city’s increasingly protest-minded public.

Russian secret police raided Mr Zhukov’s family home on Saturday, seizing flash drives and a Libertarian Party flag among other items, according to Leonid Solovyev, the student’s defence lawyer.


Mr Zhukov’s parents were away for the weekend, leaving the student’s grandmother and underage brother to face the ordeal as eight security officers invaded the Moscow flat

The case against Mr Zhukov has been built around a video supposedly showing the student directing the crowds at an unauthorised protest in Moscow on July 27th. However, Mr Solovyev said investigators had conceded that the gesturing figure in the video was not Mr Zhukov but were likely planning to press fresh criminal charges against his client.

Alexei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo Moskvy radio, who has personally vouched for Mr Zhukov, said the collapse of the video evidence had put law enforcement agencies in an awkward spot. Investigators had presented the Moscow case to Russian president Vladimir Putin and now had “to explain somehow why Zhukov was in prison”.

The Moscow case has become symbolic of the heavy-handed official response to the wave of anti-government protests that erupted in Moscow in mid-July after election officials barred opposition candidates from the ballot at an upcoming city parliament poll. Disqualified candidates have been jailed for calling unauthorised public meetings while on the streets riot police have cracked down, arresting thousands of peaceful demonstrators as if confronting a revolution.

How many people demonstrated?

Moscow city authorities refused to grant permission for a demonstration against political repression on Saturday and warned that participants risked official reprisals.

Lyubov Sobol, an opposition candidate and one of the disqualified election candidates, led a procession of more than 1,000 protesters along the boulevards of central Moscow. “We are calling for a halt to the detention of demonstrators, the night searches of candidates and the arrest of students and political prisoners,” she said. “Society will not step back.”

Riot police closed ranks to surround Pushkin Square where the rally ended while police vans sped up and down the street with blaring sirens as if readying for another crackdown. But there were no arrests.

“They’ve learned their lesson,” said one middle-aged woman who declined to give her name. “All these arrests and beatings are bad for Putin’s reputation.”

However, Larissa, an elderly Muscovite believed the law enforcers were only taking a temporary break from violence to avoid spoiling the mood as the city celebrated the start of the new school year. “I’m afraid my arms would bruise and break if they dragged me away,” she said. “The young have got to stand firm and finish this job. Protesting is the only way to change our authorities’ behaviour.”