‘Shocking’: Putin critic handed 25 years in prison


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MOSCOW — A Russian court on Monday slapped opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza with 25 years in prison for treason and other claimed offenses.

Moscow City Court sentenced Kara-Murza to a penal colony for spreading “fake news” about the army and “cooperation with an undesirable organization,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin steps up his crackdown on dissent and Russian civil society. But the bulk of his sentence had to do with another, third charge: treason, in the first time anyone has been convicted on that count for making public statements containing publicly available information.

On the courthouse steps, British Ambassador Deborah Bronnert called the sentence for Kara-Murza, who holds both Russian and British citizenship, “shocking.” Her U.S. counterpart said the verdict was an attempt “to silence dissent in this country.” 

The U.K. summoned the Russian ambassador after the conviction, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly calling for Kara-Murza’s “immediate release.”

Upon traveling to Russia in April 2022, Kara-Murza was detained for disobeying police orders. From that moment the charges piled up: first for spreading “fake news” about the Russian armed forces, then for his participation in an “undesirable organization,” and last for treason, on account of three public speeches he gave in the U.S., Finland and Portugal. The charges, all of which Kara-Murza denies, were expanded to treason last October.

A close associate of the late opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015, Kara-Murza was one of the last remaining prominent Putin critics still alive and walking free. But over the years he has ruffled many feathers as a main advocate for the Magnitsky Act, which long before the war called upon countries to target Russians involved in human rights violations and corruption.

The defense’s attempts to remove the judge — who is also on the Magnitsky list — were dismissed.

Kara-Murza continued to speak out against the Kremlin despite mounting personal risks, including what he described as poisonings by the Russian security services in 2015 and 2017, where he suddenly became ill, falling into a coma before eventually recovering.

Neither journalists nor high-ranking diplomats were allowed into the courtroom to witness the ruling and instead followed the sentencing on a screen.

Kara-Murza was in a glass cage, dressed in jeans and a gray blazer, with his mother and his lawyer standing outside of the cage. He smiled when the sentence was read out.

After the verdict Oleg Orlov, the co-chair of Russia’s oldest human rights group, Memorial, who himself is facing charges for “discrediting the Russian army,” drew a parallel with the Soviet Union, when “people were also jailed for words.” Kara-Murza compared the legal process to Stalin-era trials, in his appearance at court.

Kara-Murza’s lawyer Maria Eismont said the sentence was “a boost to his self esteem, the highest grade he could have gotten for his work as a politician and active citizen,” but added that there were serious concerns about his health.  

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( With inputs from : www.politico.eu )

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