Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian human rights advocate and Kremlin critic, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison after publicly condemning Moscow’s war in Ukraine, in a decision that was condemned as politically motivated and draconian by the international community.
Kara-Murza was initially detained one year ago, hours after an interview with CNN in which he criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “regime of murderers.”
He was on trial for criminal offenses that included treason, spreading fake news about the Russian army, and facilitating activities of an undesirable organization. Russia criminalized criticism of the military following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. The court said he would serve his sentence “in a strict regime correctional colony.”
His wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, praised his courage following his sentencing. She wrote: “A quarter century - that is a “5+” for your courage, consistency and honesty in your many years of work. I am eternally proud of you, my dear, and I am always with you.” A 5+ is comparable to an A+ in the Russian educational system.
Kara-Murza will appeal the sentence, his lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, told CNN on Monday.
The activist’s detention has been decried by international human rights organizations and prompted sanctions by the Biden administration last month.
Monday’s sentencing draws further attention on Putin’s brutal crackdown against freedom of expression, which has intensified since he invaded Ukraine last February.
Kara-Murza has long been critical of Putin and has survived two poisonings.
In March 2022, he spoke before the Arizona House of Representatives against the war, and in an interview with CNN in April 2022, the political dissident condemned Putin’s regime for targeting critics. He was arrested shortly afterwards for “failing to obey the orders of law enforcement,” according to his wife.
A lawyer for Kara-Murza said later on Monday that the Kremlin critic was in deteriorating health. “While he was already in custody, a number of symptoms associated with numbness of limbs and nerve failure have worsened,” Maria Eismont said.
Eismont said Kara-Murza was first diagnosed with polyneuropathy – a condition that develops when nerves in the body’s extremities are damaged – when he was taken for an examination to a civilian hospital in Moscow at the end of March. According to Eismont, the results of the examination showed serious problems with the nerves in both of his legs and one arm.
Kara-Murza ‘proud’ of his political views
Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny condemned the sentence, describing it in an audio statement as “illegal, shameless, and simply fascist.”
And the sentencing quickly drew a chorus of international condemnation for Putin. The British government criticized what it called the “politically motivated” sentencing. “Vladimir Kara-Murza bravely denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for what it was – a blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter. Russia’s lack of commitment to protecting fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is alarming,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Monday.
The EU added: “Today’s outrageously harsh court decision clearly demonstrates yet again the political misuse of judiciary in order to pressure activists, human rights defenders and any voices opposing Russia’s illegitimate war of aggression against Ukraine.”
The charge of treason in Russia was broadened in 2012 to include consultations or any other assistance to a foreign state or international or foreign organizations. It was used against Kara-Murza over his condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In March, the United States imposed sanctions on a number of Russian individuals connected to what the Treasury Department called Kara-Murza’s “arbitrary detention” and called for his “immediate and unconditional release.”
His wife Evgenia told the London-based radio station LBC that neither she nor their children have spoken with him since last April. “The authorities said that he could not have phone conversations with his children because his children were living in the United States and the authorities were afraid that some secret information, some state secrets might somehow leak,” she said.
Evgenia Kara-Murza also said the children are “terrified” about their father’s wellbeing.
In the final hearing of his trial last week, Kara-Murza said he was “proud” of his political views.
“I’m in jail for my political views; for speaking out against the war in Ukraine, for many years of struggle against Putin’s dictatorship, for facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators. Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it,” Kara-Murza said.
The original Magnitsky Act, signed into law in December 2012, blocks entry into the US and freezes the assets of certain Russian government officials and businessmen accused of human rights violations. The law was subsequently expanded to give global scope to the Russia-focused legislation.
Kara-Murza said he blamed himself for not being able to convince enough of his “compatriots” and politicians of democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and the world.
He also expressed that he hoped “that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate.”
“Even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people,” he added. “I believe that we can walk this path.”
CNN’s Anna Chernova, Darya Tarasova contributed reporting.