Moscow Court Sentences Activist Kara-Murza to 25 Years in Jail

Published: 18 April 2023

Vladimir Kara-Murza

Russian authorities sentenced a Russian journalist, opposition politician, human rights activist, and one of the Kremlin’s most outspoken opponents, Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years behind bars. (Photo: Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Flickr, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The Moscow City Court has delivered the highest sentence possible to Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian journalist, opposition politician, human rights activist, and one of the Kremlin’s most outspoken opponents, after finding him guilty of treason and spreading “fake news” about the Russian Army.

Monday’s ruling is seen by the West as another act of vengeance against those who dare to challenge the regime’s narrative about the war in Ukraine.

Kara-Murza, 41, was sentenced to 25 years in a strict regime penitentiary colony, according to the Russian independent human rights watchdog OVD-Info.

The punishment includes seven years in prison for distributing “fake news,” three years in prison for “affiliation with an undesirable organization,” and the rest of the sentence for “high treason.”

In addition, Kara-Murza was fined 400,000 rubles (US$4,884), barred from journalism for seven years after serving his term, and condemned to a six-month limitation of freedom upon his release from the colony, according to the report.

The verdict came one year after Russian police detained Kara-Murza as he spoke about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His take on it was completely opposite from what the regime in Moscow was saying about Russia’s “special military operation.”

Kara-Murza, who was a close associate of the murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov – assassinated in Moscow in 2015 - himself survived two poisoning attempts – in 2015 and 2017.

In his concluding statements at the court a week ago, Kara-Murza apparently did not ask for acquittal, as would be anticipated of someone who did not commit the crime.

“I know my verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw in the mirror people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car,” he told the court and concluded: “Such is the price for not being silent in Russia now. But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate.”

The latest move of the regime in Moscow has provoked numerous international condemnations of the sentence and calls for the immediate release of Kara-Murza, who is also a British citizen since he was 15 when he moved to the U.K. with his mother.

The U.K. Government said in a statement that Kara-Murza was convicted “with politically motivated charges.” The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said it has summoned the Russian Ambassador to the U.K. to “make clear that the U.K. considers Kara-Murza’s conviction to be contrary to Russia’s international obligations on human rights, including the right to a fair trial.”

“Russia’s lack of commitment to protecting fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is alarming. We continue to urge Russia to adhere to its international obligations, including Vladimir Kara-Murza’s entitlement to proper healthcare,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

The Foreign Office emphasized that the U.K. has previously sanctioned the judge who presided over the trial for previous involvement in human rights violations, and that it would explore additional actions to hold those responsible for Vladimir Kara-Murza’s incarceration and mistreatment to account.

“The court’s decision today to sentence Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for expressing an opinion critical of the policies of his government is another terrible sign of the repression that has taken hold in Russia. We call for his immediate release,” the U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy said in a statement.

The U.S. administration has already acted in Kara-Murza’s case, sanctioning six people in March last year, including three judges, for "their involvement in serious human rights abuses against human rights defender, prominent opposition leader, author, and historian Vladimir Kara-Murza."

The three were designated under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption around the world. Kara-Murza was the key advocate for the law's adoption.

“Today's outrageously harsh court decision clearly demonstrates yet again the political misuse of the judiciary in order to pressure activists, human rights defenders, and any voices opposing Russia's illegitimate war of aggression against Ukraine,” the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said.

He stressed that the "E.U. stands in solidarity with all those Russians who are prosecuted, imprisoned, or intimidated for fighting for human rights, speaking the truth, and criticizing the regime," and called on Russia to “immediately and unconditionally release all those imprisoned for politically motivated charges.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, also called on the Russian authorities to release Kara-Murza without delay.

He emphasized that the Moscow court's decision was “a blow to the rule of law and civic space,” and that “no one should be deprived of their liberty for exercising their human rights.”

In response to the verdict, Amnesty International reminded that Vladimir Kara-Murza is a prisoner of conscience since he was convicted purely for his political beliefs and demanded his "immediate and unconditional release.”

The global human rights watchdog also cautioned that Kara-Murza has major health issues, including polyneuropathy – the simultaneous dysfunction of peripheral nerves – in both feet, which is thought to be the result of prior poisonings.