August 16, 2019
After a monthlong hunger strike, it’s a struggle for Lyubov Sobol to even raise her hands. Every gesture is difficult for the frail 31-year-old political activist.
This summer’s wave of anti-government protests in Moscow propelled her to the forefront of Russia’s opposition movement. Her name rang out on the streets of the capital, packed with demonstrators angered by the refusal of election authorities to allow independent candidates, including Sobol, on the ballot for the Moscow Duma, or city council.
Sobol has been the prime target of attacks by both the Kremlin-friendly media and election officials.
“The attitude to me is different because I work harder than others and I don’t let people get away with lies,” Sobol told The Associated Press. “I’m not afraid of telling people to their face what I think of them.”
Moscow has been gripped by weekly protests for more than a month over the nearly two dozen candidates from across the political spectrum who have been excluded from the Sept. 8 election.
The numbers continue to grow: the Aug. 10 rally was Russia’s biggest in eight years, and heavy-handed police tactics against peaceful protesters illustrates just how jittery the Kremlin is about the movement. More than 2,000 people were detained, and videos of riot police beating protesters were widely circulated.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov broke a month of silence Monday, praising the police and saying President Vladimir Putin has not spoken on the subject because he views the rallies as too insignificant to worry about.
Sobol, bespectacled and with a pony tail of platinum blond hair, has emerged in what has mostly been a leaderless movement, galvanized by the authorities’ disregard for voters’ rights. Protesters have been chanting her name at the rallies as well as slogans rich with wordplay: Lyubov literally means “love” in Russian.
A graduate of Russia’s most prestigious law school, she has been behind some of the most visible anti-corruption investigations run by the country’s undisputed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.