On Monday, April 17, the Moscow City Court sentenced Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in a strict regime colony. He was convicted under three articles of the Russian Criminal Code. He received seven years regarding “fakes” in the Russian army case, three years regarding the “undesirable organization” case, and 18 years regarding the treason case. 25 years is the maximum prison term that can be requested by the prosecutor under these three articles for a previously not convicted person. Vladimir Kara-Murza refused to plead guilty.
Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician and journalist who has been a vocal critic of the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. He has been targeted by Russian authorities several times, and his sentencing on April 17, 2023, has been widely condemned by human rights organizations and governments worldwide.
UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk reacted to the sentence saying: “The 25-year prison sentence handed down today by a Moscow court against opposition politician and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza is another blow to the rule of law and civic space in the Russian Federation. Kara-Murza was tried on charges that appear related to the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of opinion, expression, and association, including his public criticism of the Russian Federation’s armed attack against Ukraine.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza has been in politics for more than 20 years, but he is more well-known outside Russia than inside the country. After his detention in 2022, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch immediately recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and demanded his release.
The long-term opponent of the Russian President
On November 16, 2009, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died on the cell floor of the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center after discovering that Russian security agents had stolen $230 million from the state budget at the expense of one of his clients, Bill Browder. He was tortured and did not receive medical care, even though he had acute pancreatitis. In the summer of 2010, the U.S. Congress introduced a bill to deny entry into the country to 60 Russian security officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky. Congress also froze the assets of these same security officials. Senators Benjamin Cardin and John McCain were co-authors of the bill. At the same time, Nemtsov invited Kara-Murza to work on the Magnitsky Act in the United States.
This act was passed on June 7, 2012. In September, it became known that the United Kingdom passed its “Magnitsky Act” with similar implications on sanctioning corrupted Russian officials. Later on, other countries did as well. In fact, the Magnitsky Act was a prototype of the sanctions that Western countries would later adopt against Russian officials in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea. Prior to the Magnitsky Act, freezing the assets of individual officials was not done.
Kara-Murza draws inspiration from fellow opponents of the Kremlin including the aforementioned late Russian politician Boris Nemstov. Following Nemtsov’s assassination, which many think was tied to Putin himself, Kara-Murza stated: “To say that he influenced me is to say nothing. I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t have done much of what I did if it weren’t for him.” That is why Kara-Murza often says that he has not trusted the Russian regime since the beginning of his career.
Kara-Murza previously survived two near-fatal poisoning attempts — first in 2015 and then again in 2017. He suffered organ failure in both incidents, which led him to be put in an artificial coma that left him with enduring health problems. The assassination attempts were later linked by independent researchers to the same team of poisoners from Russia’s FSB intelligence service that nearly killed the opposition leader Alexey Navalny in 2018. Navalny, Russia’s best-known Putin critic, recently said he was “deeply upset” by Kara-Murza’s sentence.
The criminal case
Kara-Murza continued to work for Russian opposition organizations, while simultaneously promoting personal sanctions abroad and writing columns in The Washington Post about Putin’s autocracy. At the time of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he was in Moscow. But he soon left for his eldest daughter’s birthday party in the United States.
Despite a number of warnings from friends and colleagues, he made a decision to come back to Russia in April 2022. On April 11, 2022, Kara-Murza was detained in Moscow, next to his apartment, for “having changed his trajectory at the sight of police officers.” A report was drawn up under the article on disobedience to police officers. The next day, he was sent to a special detention center for 15 days, where he was accused of spreading “fake stories” about the Russian army. He has been under arrest ever since.
The politician was accused of spreading “fakes” because of his March 15 speech to the Arizona House of Representatives. According to investigators, in the U.S. House of Representatives of the state of Arizona, Kara-Murza “for reasons of political hatred” voiced knowingly false information about the use of Russian military forces in Ukraine.
Later, on July 27, he was also criminally prosecuted for working for a “foreign or international NGO that has been declared undesirable.” According to investigators, the politician held an annual conference at the Sakharov Center in Moscow on October 27, 2021, on the eve of Political Prisoners Day, with money from the American “Free Russia Foundation.”
His most serious charge was treason, which he was accused of on October 6. He was charged because he spoke at the NATO Assembly, at the Helsinki Committee in Oslo and in the United States.
During his one-year detention, the opposition leader’s health has taken a sharp turn for the worse. According to his lawyers, he has lost 17 kilograms and has lost both of his feet due to his diagnosed polyneuropathy of the legs. On April 10, 2023, dozens of Russian journalists and human rights activists published an open letter in support of Vladimir Kara-Murza. In it, they called the politician’s case “a vivid example of a return to Stalinist terror.”
The trial was held behind closed doors. The case was heard by Judge Sergei Podoprigorov, a figure on the “Magnitsky List” (the list of individuals who received personal sanctions due to violation of human rights and corruption) which was adopted, among other things, as a result of Kara-Murza’s efforts.
In his last statement, Kara-Muza said that he does not regret anything. “But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate. This day will come as inevitably as spring follows even the coldest winter. Even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people. I believe that we can walk this path,” he stated.
Cover image by: AP Photo