MOSCOW - A court in Moscow has handed popular blogger Yegor Zhukov a three-year suspended sentence after finding him guilty of inciting extremism online in a case condemned as politically motivated.
The Kuntsevo district court announced the verdict Friday as hundreds of supporters of Zhukov, 21, a student at Moscow's prestigious Higher School of Economics, gathered outside the court building in western Moscow.
"The court has established that Zhukov made public calls for extremist activity using the internet," Judge Svetlana Ukhnaleva said.
Zhukov was arrested in August amid protests that gripped Moscow for weeks this past summer as Russians vented against the country's repressive political system.
"Of course, this is not an ultimate victory. A big thank you to everyone," Zhukov said after the verdict was announced.
In his final court appearance, on Wednesday, Zhukov made an impassioned appeal to his supporters — and offered an indictment of Russia's political system.
Russia's current political system has fostered economic inequality that, Zhukov said, destroys any opportunity for human prosperity, with the top 10 percent holding 90 percent of the country's wealth.
"Among them, of course, there are very honorable citizens. But the bulk of this wealth was obtained not by honest labor, for the benefit of people, but by banal corruption," he said.
Prior to his predawn arrest on August 2, Zhukov had already drawn a sizable audience on YouTube, where he had posted a series of video blogs in which he vented against President Vladimir Putin and promoted opposition protests across the country.
In the series of protests that hit Moscow on consecutive weekends during the summer, police detained hundreds of people on various charges. Most were released for misdemeanor violations.
At a different location in the capital Friday, the Tver district court sentenced Nikita Chirtsov, a 22-year-old programmer who took part in an unsanctioned rally on July 27, to serve one year "in a general penal colony."
Chirtsov was initially fined 12,000 rubles ($185) for violating regulations for holding public events, after which he left Moscow for the Belarusian capital, Minsk. However, Belarusian officials detained him days later on a Russian request and ordered him sent back to Moscow.
Upon his return, Chirtsov was rearrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during the rally and placed in pretrial detention. Chirtsov maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and the police officer involved told the court in November that the suspect "does not deserve imprisonment."
The Tver district court also fined Pavel Novikov, 32, 120,000 rubles ($1,850) after finding him guilty of assaulting a police officer during the same July 27 rally.
Meanwhile, the Meshchansky district court on Friday handed Vladimir Yemelyanov a two-year suspended sentence after also finding him guilty of assaulting a law officer during the July 27 rally.
Zhukov was initially charged with mass unrest as a result of his participation in the protests, but amid an outcry from his student supporters, prosecutors reclassified the case against him.
The last video he posted before being detained had been viewed more than 300,000 times as of Thursday. Since his arrest, the videos posted to his YouTube channel by his supporters and allies have garnered hundreds of thousands more.