MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court unexpectedly freed a prominent student protester on Friday after handing him a three-year suspended jail sentence on extremism charges in a case that has sparked an outcry among the Kremlin’s critics.
Yegor Zhukov, a 21-year-old student and politics blogger on YouTube, was among more than 1,000 people detained in Moscow on July 27 in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years. He and others had taken to the streets to call for free elections.
The court on Friday found him guilty of inciting extremism on his YouTube channel and banned him from using the Internet for two years.
But the court did not satisfy a demand from Russian prosecutors to jail Zhukov for four years and opted to give him a suspended sentence instead.
Zhukov had denied the allegations against him and said he had been caught up in a government crackdown on the opposition.
“The fact I’m here now is only thanks to you, this is your victory,” Zhukov told supporters after emerging from the court on Friday.
Prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny welcomed the news of Zhukov’s suspended sentence, but said he should never have been prosecuted in the first place.
Russian courts were due on Friday to rule in other separate cases against people facing criminal prosecution over anti-government protests that flared this summer.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev; editing by Andrew Osborn)