A Russian court on Monday charged top opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. with treason and sentenced him to 25 years in prison for publicly condemning Moscow’s war in Ukraine. As part of the Kremlin’s relentless crackdown on critics of the invasion.
A political activist and journalist who has accused Russian authorities of being a two-time poisoning survivor has dismissed the charges against him as punishment for standing up to President Vladimir Putin and likened them to the trials under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Human rights organizations and Western governments condemned the verdict and demanded his release. Amnesty International declared the 41-year-old a prisoner of conscience.
Kara-Murza responded quietly as the judge read the verdict and sentence in rapid unison. His lawyer, Maria Esmont, later quoted him as saying: “My self-esteem has risen: I realize that I have done everything right. Twenty-five years is the highest credit I can get for what I have done and what I believe in as a citizen, as a patriot, as a politician.
Kara-Murza’s wife Evgenia, who lives in the US with their three children, tweeted after the verdict: “A quarter of a century is an ‘A+’ for your courage, consistency and integrity in your many years of work. I am infinitely proud of you, my love, and I am always by your side.
The charges against Kara-Murza, a dual Russian-British citizen who has been behind bars since her arrest a year ago, stem from her March 2022 speech in the Arizona House of Representatives condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Speaking abroad.
“There are millions of people in my country who fundamentally reject and fundamentally disagree with everything that Putin’s regime represents and stands for, from abuse and thievery to abuses and repression and crimes against humanity,” Kara-Murza told lawmakers in Arizona in a 17-minute speech to the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. Visited by invitation.
“It was an absolute honor to witness his courage when he addressed the House last year,” said state Rep. Marcelino Quiñones, a Democrat and House Minority Whip. “Apparently this sentence is a travesty of justice around the world.”
Days after the invasion, Russia passed a law criminalizing the spread of “false information” about its military. Officials have used the law to quell criticism of what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation.”
Kara-Murza was initially charged only with spreading “false information” about the military, but authorities later added charges of working in an “undesirable” organization – a criminal offense – and treason.
The widespread campaign of repression is unprecedented since the Soviet era, effectively criminalizing independent reporting of any public criticism of the conflict and war.
Another prominent opposition figure, Ilya Yashin, was sentenced to 8½ years in prison last year on charges of spreading false information about the military.
Last month, a Russian court sentenced a father over social media posts He was sentenced to two years in prison for criticizing the war. Her 13-year-old daughter was sent to an orphanage after drawing an anti-war painting at school. A few days later, Russia’s security service arrested Ivan GershkovichAmerican correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, charged with espionage.
A recent report by the Russian Supreme Court found that in 2022, the court ordered citizens to pay fines 4,439 times for insulting the military, a total equivalent to about $1.8 million, according to Russia’s independent news site Mediazona.
Kara-Murza said in a statement at the end of her trial that she had been jailed for “years of struggle against Putin’s dictatorship”, her criticism of the war in Ukraine and her long efforts to win Western sanctions against Russian officials involved in human rights. Irregularities.
“I know the day will come when the darkness that surrounds our country will lift,” he told the court in comments posted on his Twitter account. “This day will come as inevitably as spring to replace even the frosty winter.”
Kara-Murza was an associate of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader and staunch Putin critic who was assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.
In 2011–12, Kara-Murza and Nemtsov lobbied for passage of the Magnitsky Act in the United States, a law in response to the death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian prosecutor who exposed a tax fraud scheme. The law enables Washington to impose economic sanctions on Russians deemed human rights abusers.
The judge in Kara-Murza’s trial, Sergei Podobrykhorov, was among those sanctioned after ordering Magnitsky’s arrest in 2008. Vadim Prokhorov, Gara-Murza’s lawyer, said Potobrykhorov had petitioned US authorities in 2018 to lift sanctions against him. Russian media reported that during Kara-Murza’s interrogation, Prokhorov twice asked Podprigorov to recuse himself, to no avail.
Kara-Murza, Sen. John was a friend of McCain and was a pallbearer at his 2018 funeral. McCain’s choice of a Russian opponent as a stooge was widely seen as a slap at then-President Donald Trump, who has often been criticized by the senator for having a cozy relationship with Putin. Kara-Murza worked with McCain to push anti-Putin measures through Congress.
The politician and activist escaped poisoning in 2015 and 2017 after accusing the Kremlin. Russian officials have denied responsibility.
Amnesty International condemned Kara-Murza’s sentence as “another chilling example of the systematic repression of civil society that has expanded and accelerated under the Kremlin since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.”
The group declared Kara-Murza a prisoner of conscience, sentenced for his political beliefs, and demanded his immediate and unconditional release.
Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights organizations, named a co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize alongside human rights defenders from Ukraine and Belarus, has also named Kara-Murza a political prisoner.
Yan Rachinsky, head of the monument, described the sentence as “monstrous” and said it reflected the authorities’ fear of criticism and “marked a difference between today’s Russia and civilized countries”.
The British and American ambassadors to Russia, speaking to reporters on the steps of a Moscow courthouse, called for Kara-Murza’s immediate release. Western governments strongly condemned the punishment.
“Vladimir Gara-Murza has boldly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a flagrant violation of international law and the UN Charter,” British Foreign Secretary James Wise said in a statement.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had summoned Russian Ambassador Andrey Kelin in connection with the conviction. Britain previously sanctioned the chief justice for human rights abuses in another case and said it would consider taking further steps to hold people accountable in the Kara-Murza case.
The US State Department praised opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned with Kara-Murza, Yashin and others who “bravely stand up for human rights and fundamental freedoms and serve their country and fellow citizens at great personal cost.” It renewed its call for the release of Kara-Murza and more than 400 other political prisoners in Russia.
UN human rights chief Volker Turk called the sentence “another blow to the rule of law and civil space in the Russian Federation.”
As Gara-Murza delivered her speech, former Arizona State Rep. Caesar N. “Terrible and saddening for us who live in a free society,” Chavez said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.
Kara-Murza’s health deteriorated while in custody, leading to the development of polyneuropathy — disease or damage to the nerves — in both of her legs, according to her lawyers.
Prosecutor Prokhorov told German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle on Monday that the politician had been “in essence, given a death sentence”.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine-war
Associated Press writer Anita Snow Phoenix contributed.