On Aug. 1, Yegor Zhukov posted his last YouTube video, making an impassioned appeal to support anti-government protesters caught up in the wheels of Russia’s criminal justice system. Wearing a dark blue button-down shirt, the 21-year-old Moscow political science student leaned into the camera and urged Russians not to be cowed into silence.
“Russia will eventually be free,” he said. “But we may not live to see it if we let fear win.”
Hours later, law enforcement agents arrested Zhukov and charged him with rioting during an unauthorized rally in downtown Moscow.
Overnight, Zhukov became the human face of a crackdown on political dissent that Amnesty International calls an “unprecedented” attack on Russians’ freedom of assembly and expression. At demonstrations ahead of Sept. 8 local elections, police beat dozens of protesters and detained hundreds.
Zhukov’s arrest mobilized his fellow students and fueled a petition drive by Russian academics against political reprisals. Oxxxymiron, one of Russia’s most successful rappers, even offered to put up a 2 million ruble ($31,000) bond for Zhukov, but a Moscow court turned him down.