A few tweets that night and Volkova found herself transformed as well, taking on human rights and political cases. It’s a field with many risks and few triumphs — the courts are widely viewed as listening to political orders rather than legal arguments.
Earlier that day, she had been in the old Moscow neighborhood of Chistye Prudy, where permission had been granted to hold what was assumed would be a typically small opposition rally. Volkova, with fellow lawyer Nikolai Polozov, was astonished to see lines of police vans filling the streets. “The number of police was huge,” she said. She was sure the authorities were preparing to round up demonstrators.
She began noticing all the tweets — Twitter was electrified by people urging their friends to join the protest. “Call me if you need help,” she wrote. “Don’t worry,” they replied. “We won’t.”
She and Polozov sat in a second-floor cafe watching the crowd gather. Below, they could see a well-known colleague, Mark Feygin. The three would meet three months later and form the defense team for the punk-rock group Pussy Riot.
Soon police started filling their vans with protesters, and calls for help were tweeted. Volkova and Polozov walked to a nearby police station and by 2 a.m. got 15 detainees released. Later, it was estimated that several hundred had been taken to various stations.
After that, her list of clients grew — along with the demonstrations. So did the frustrations.
Three Pussy Riot members who had entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February to protest Russia’s growing authoritarianism and the church’s support of Putin were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, a criminal offense with a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
During the trial, the judge had no patience for arguments about political protest or that the act fell under civil laws that would bring a fine rather than prison time. The prosecution was permitted to call all the witnesses it desired. The defense got to call three from a list of a dozen. Its motions were denied, one after another.
“It’s hard to control yourself when they tell you black is white,” said Volkova, who at one point lashed out at the judge. “You understand there is no justice. At that point, you become a human rights activist.”