A Russian court sentenced prominent opposition figure and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in a high-security prison on Monday. Charged with sedition. His crime was to criticize Russia’s war in Ukraine. The verdict was the latest in the Kremlin’s growing crackdown on dissent, and the harshest punishment to date for a war critic in the country.
Kara-Murza has consistently denied any wrongdoing and denounced the case against him as politically motivated, citing his long-standing opposition to President Vladimir Putin and his criticism of Russia’s flawed elections and the Kremlin’s increasingly strict policies on freedom of speech and the press.
“I am in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For fighting Putin’s dictatorship for many years,” Kara-Murza said during a hearing last week. “Not only do I not regret any of it, I’m proud of it.”
“Acquittal is the only fair verdict for a person who has committed no crime,” he added. “But I don’t want anything from this court. I know the verdict.”
Both the closed-door trial and the unprecedentedly harsh verdicts signaled Moscow’s increasingly intolerant stance toward internal dissent. Jailing a Russian journalist for so long for opposing the war clearly highlights the Putin regime’s rejection of Western condemnation of the war and alleged human rights abuses in Ukraine.
Kara-Murza’s sentence was announced after US officials granted access to a reporter from the American Wall Street Journal who was arrested in Russia at the end of March and charged with spying for the US government. A week ago, the Biden administration Journalist declared Ivan Gershkovic “wrongfully detained”. by Russia, and the Journal and Gershkovich’s family, friends and colleagues have all strongly denied claims that he was acting as anything other than a journalist.
The United States has pressed for access to Gershkovich since his arrest, and Russian state media said Monday that U.S. Ambassador Lynn Tracy had met with the reporter in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. There was no confirmation from US officials, who called for the American journalist’s immediate release.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Tracy Cara-Murzar called for his immediate release, saying in a statement that the sentence was, “another terrible sign of the repression that is taking place in Russia.”
“The right to hold political opinions, or to disagree with the decisions of one’s government, is a fundamental freedom under both the Russian constitution and international treaties to which Russia is a party,” he said. “This ruling is an attempt to silence dissent in this country and make an example of those brave enough to propose an alternative to the Russian government’s policies.”
“Criminalizing criticism of government action is a sign of fear, not strength,” the ambassador added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the harsh ruling, telling reporters Monday that the government never “comments on court decisions, and we won’t do so this time either.”
“Twenty-five (year sentences) for words. They don’t even give you that long for murder,” said Ivan Pavlov, one of Russia’s most prominent human rights lawyers. “Temperatures are rising, sentences are getting longer. It’s a sign of war.”
Kara-Murza was arrested in April 2022 after the build-up Condemning the war in Ukraine comments Abroad in a speech to Arizona lawmakers. Russian prosecutors later alleged that his comments were spreading “false information” about the Russian armed forces, a violation of a law. The law came into force last year by the Kremlin.
Last summer he was also accused of collaborating with the Free Russia Foundation, an international organization based in Washington DC that has been labeled as “undesirable” in Russia.
“A quarter of a century is an ‘A+’ for your courage, consistency and integrity of your year-long work,” the journalist’s wife Evgenia Kara-Murza tweeted after the verdict. “I am infinitely proud of you, my love, and I am always by your side.” I am.”
Kara-Murza was the target of two poisoning attacks in Russia between 2015 and 2017, both of which the Russian government has denied any role.
He has lost 48 pounds since his arrest last April, according to his legal team, and his health has deteriorated rapidly, raising concerns that he may not survive a long prison term.