Speaking as a free man

Meduza reported from Moscow yesterday:

Prosecutors have asked for a four-year prison sentence in the case of 21-year-old Egor Zhukov [or Yegor; the name is a folk version of George], a student at the Higher School of Economics…

Zhukov has been charged with calling publicly for extremist actions during a protest in the summer of 2019. He runs a popular libertarian-leaning YouTube channel and attended protests in person.

He was initially accused of mass rioting, but those charges were dropped.

Here’s another helpful report, and another one in Russian. The court proceedings moved at a fast pace, the trial taking just two days and the verdict and sentence expected tomorrow. In line with Continental practice, criminal defendants in Russian courts have the right to a final statement after the conclusion of the hearings and before the verdict.

It does not have to be merely a comment on the case or a rebuttal of the prosecution’s argument. Before the Communist revolution as well as in the post-1953 Soviet decades, defendants occasionally used this opportunity to make a political or metaphysical statement. Yegor Zhukov’s final address was worthy of a mature political scientist (so I’m hearing) and a great speech overall. Was it really addressed to the judge? (She had been involved in the persecution of Sergei Magnitsky.) Was it meant for the general public? For history and posterity?

Or was it a monologue that absolutely had to be delivered whatever the audience? For if you’re criminally prosecuted for speech, can you really defend yourself? What if you were prosecuted for thinking or being awake or breathing? You can only keep speaking just as you’d keep thinking and waking and breathing, no matter what. Speech can be criminalized, muted, distorted but can’t be completely and permanently stopped.

As for those Russian liberals who once supported the criminalization of “extremist speech” hoping it would protect them from neo-Nazis and such, the less said the better.

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