The Atlantic

‘You Cannot Forbid Love’: A Kremlin Critic’s Struggle

Lyubov Sobol has been an anti-corruption activist for years. Now, she is trying to win a seat on Moscow’s city council.
Source: Tatyana Makeyeva / Reuters

MOSCOW—Shortly before midnight one recent evening, five beefy security officers lifted a small leather couch from an election-commission office here and gently carried it down a flight of stairs, through a beeping metal detector, and finally out into the dark summer night.

On it sat Lyubov Sobol, an opposition activist who had been barred from running in September’s elections for Moscow’s city council. To protest that decision, Sobol had refused to leave the offices of the electoral authorities until she received an audience with the head of the national election commission.

Carrying her out of the building on the couch she was sitting on seemed to be the only way to stop her.

Elections to the Moscow assembly, a weak and historically inconsequential body, typically attract little attention. But the decision to ban a handful of independent candidates such as Sobol from even making it onto the ballot has spurred Russia’s largest anti-government protests in years. Tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators have taken to the streets in the Russian capital, and the official reaction has been severe: Many were beaten violently; more than 2,000 were detained, though most were eventually released; and more than a dozen opposition activists now face charges of organizing mass riots that carry serious prison terms.

Yet in cracking down so aggressively, the Russian government only

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