Russia on Friday handed an unusually lenient suspended sentence to a student convicted of making calls to extremism on a video blog condemning President Vladimir Putin.
Yegor Zhukov, a 21-year-old student at Moscow’s prestigious Higher School of Economics, was arrested in the summer over participation in anti-Putin street protests but then was charged over his YouTube videos, which have had hundreds of thousands of views.
A large number of supporters including fellow students and teachers at the university as well as one of Russia’s most famous rapper, Oxxxymiron, have called for the release of the student supporter of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Hundreds of Zhukov’s supporters stood outside the court during the sentencing chanted: “A suspended sentence is still a sentence!” and “Acquit him!”
Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence for Zhukov, making the ruling by judge Svetlana Ukhnaleva exceptionally mild.
Young Russians have been jailed for up to four years for participating in a July street protest in Moscow against Putin.
But Zhukov’s lawyer Murad Musayev told journalists in court: “This cannot be seen as a complete victory because the guy is innocent.”
Zhukov emerged from court and raised a hand in triumph as the crowd shouted “Yegor!” Police had to close one lane of a nearby road due to the size of the crowd.
“This isn’t complete victory all the same, although I’m very glad to be free,” he said.
“This is all politics. They have turned courts into a repressive institution. We must fight this,” he said, thanking supporters for highlighting his case.
“The fact that I’m here and this is happening is all thanks to you,” he said.
“This shows that attracting attention to such things really works,” said rapper Oxxxymiron.
A suspended sentence will allow Zhukov to continue his studies while checking in regularly with police.
The son of a former cosmonaut-in-training, Zhukov has won praise for his eloquence and Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper published his final statements in court, made on Wednesday, in full.
In his speech, he argued that Russian authorities deliberately crush any initiative and create a society where no one is prepared to take any responsibility.
“I’m glad I got this chance to go through an ordeal in the name of values that are dear to me,” he said.
In another unusually mild verdict on Friday, Pavel Novikov, 32, accused of hitting a policeman with a bottle of water at a July protest, was released and fined 120,000 rubles ($1,883) after prosecutors asked for a three-year jail term, Mediazona website reported.