MOSCOW (Reuters) - Luiza Agadzhanova had nothing to do with the anti-Kremlin opposition before police arrested a fellow student for taking part in a Moscow street protest last month. Now she’s helping coordinate a campaign of her own.
Classmate Yegor Zhukov, 21, was among more than 1,000 people detained in Moscow on July 27 in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years against an increasingly defiant opposition decrying President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power.
Friday marked the 20-year anniversary of Putin being appointed acting prime minister. He has been in office as president or prime minister ever since.
Agadzhanova, who is 20, was so incensed by Zhukov’s treatment that she now helps coordinate a campaign aimed at freeing Zhukov from the pre-trial detention facility where he is being held.
“When I saw Yegor in handcuffs with guards in a cage I realised it was a total nightmare,” said Agadzhanova.
“He only went to a rally where my friends were, where I could have been. This (his arrest) could have happened to all of us.”
Zhukov, a blogger with over 100,000 followers on YouTube, and others were demanding authorities allow a slew of opposition-minded candidates to run in a Moscow election in September after they were refused registration on technical grounds.
That vote, though local, is seen as a dry run for a national parliamentary election in 2021.
Zhukov’s life is now on hold. He is one of around a dozen people a court has ordered to stay in pre-trial detention in connection with a criminal case on mass disorder.
If found guilty, he faces up to eight years in jail.
His plight has rocked his university, the Higher School of Economics, nicknamed Vyshka, angering students and some teachers. One of Russia’s top universities, it is run by prominent economist Yaroslav Kuzminov, husband of Russia’s central bank governor.
“Vyshka”, one of the university’s student news outlets, ran their first story about Zhukov’s arrest with the headline “The first Vyshka political prisoner”.
Students have been holding daily one-person protests calling for his release in the centre of Moscow, the only form of street protest which does not require permission from authorities.
Supporters have also collected nearly 600 letters demanding he be freed and 2,300,000 roubles ($35,000) for his legal defence.
“I can see the solidarity of the students and of the teachers,” Zhukov’s lecturer Ilya Lokshin, who is involved in the campaign, said.
The campaigners also plan to join a new protest in Moscow on Saturday to press the case for his release.
“It’s very scary,” said Agadzhanova, who said she and others were worried about the risk of criminal prosecution.
“But it is impossible to stay silent and do nothing anymore.”
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Raissa Kasolowsky