Fri, 20 Sep 2019

MOSCOW -- One of four activists who had their two-month pretrial detention terms upheld on August 15 has thanked a Moscow court for proving the point of thousands of Russians who have taken to the streets in pro-democracy rallies.

Addressing a hearing at the Moscow City Court during his appeal, student Yegor Zhukov told the judge his denial to grant bail or house arrest illustrates what ails Russia.

'Most of all I wish to thank our people of power for the colossal volume of work they do every single day to discredit themselves. Indeed, it is hard to find anyone who does more to expand the ranks of opposition supporters than the Russian government itself,' Zhukov said in his scathing speech to the court, which was also hearing appeals filed by Kirill Zhukov, Aleksei Minyailo, and Daniil Kokon.

All of the appeals requests were denied. The activists may face up to eight years in prison if convicted.

Rallies held each of the past four Saturdays to demand that officials allow independent candidates on the ballot in the September 8 municipal vote have resulted in thousands of arrests and condemnation of the heavy-handed tactics police are using against mostly peaceful protesters.

The police crackdown that resulted in thousands of arrests has been called one of the harshest in recent years against an opposition that has grown more defiant while denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin's hold on power.

'There is a substantial difference between a demonstration -- albeit even unsanctioned -- and mass riots. I did not set anything on fire or smash anything that day. I did not attack Russian [National] Guard troops or police that day. I did not commit any acts of violence that or any other day, because violence against forces of authoritarian regimes is ineffective to say the least -- I deeply believe it. Hence charges under that [criminal code] article is twice as strange,' Zhukov said.

'Seeing what is currently happening in Moscow and the country as a whole, it can be said with certainty -- Russia is inevitably heading towards freedom. I don't know whether I will become free, but Russia definitely will,' he added.

The Kremlin has downplayed the rallies, saying that while Putin has 'paid attention to what is happening' he hasn't commented because 'every day in Russia a huge number of events take place.'

'We do not agree with those who call what is happening a political crisis,' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added.

With reporting by Mediazona and Dozhd TV

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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