Treason trial of Putin critic shows near-total removal of basic rights in Russia


Vladimir Kara-Murza has been sentenced by Moscow’s city court to 25 years in jail after it found him guilty of charges including treason and spreading misinformation about Russia’s military. 

A long-time opponent of President Vladimir Putin, he was arrested last year after criticising the war in Ukraine and the heavy-handed tactics deployed by Russia’s military.

The 41-year-old said he was being punished for expressing his political views and likened the proceedings to the show trials held by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin during the 1930’s.

Ukraine war latest: British Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza found guilty of treason

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Russian opposition leader jailed

Kara-Murza holds Russian and British passports and studied in the UK at Cambridge University.

He has worked as a journalist as well as an advisor to leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in 2012.

He was poisoned twice, in 2015 and 2017, in incidents the activist blamed on the Russian security services.

After the second poisoning, Kara-Murza relocated to the United States with his family, including three children, to recover.

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He now suffers from a medical condition called polyneuropathy, affecting peripheral nerves, and his lawyers say he lost 22kg during his pre-trial detention.

While many Russians with liberal views fled the country after forces entered Ukraine in February 2022, Kara-Murza stayed, condemning the conflict in contravention of new censorship laws.

State prosecutors cited a speech he made to the Arizona House of Representatives where he said that Putin was “dropping cluster bombs on residential areas, mothers’ homes, hospitals and schools.”

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The judge who presided over Kara-Murza’s trial, Sergei Podoprigorov, has been sanctioned by the UK and other Western nations under so-called “Magnitsky legislation”, which targets Russian officials who have been involved or presided over human rights abuses.

Kara-Murza played a key role in championing such legislation.

The “Magnitsky Act” in the United States in 2021 was named after a lawyer called Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured to death in a Russian prison after exposing tax fraud by government officials.

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Analysis: The attack on Slovyansk

Many will be unfamiliar with his name, a curse of many liberal politicians in Russia who struggle to make themselves heard in a country with few democratic traditions.

The 41-year-old was a key figure in the “People’s Freedom Party” – or PARNAS – which tried to build a coalition and field candidates in a number of regional and national elections.

However, party officials were routinely followed and harassed, denied access to state media and prevented from entering candidates in individual constituencies.

Speaking at the PARNAS launch event before the 2016 parliamentary elections, Kara-Murza told Sky News: “I think the best thing this regime would like us to do is to give and run away and we are not going to give them that pleasure.”

This father-of-three could have stayed in the United States with his family.

He would have been perfectly aware that his statements, at home and abroad, would attract the attention of Putin’s security services.

Yet he felt compelled to make his views known in the hope that others will do the same.

The sentence handed down by the Moscow City Court is the harshest seen in years and symbolises the removal of basic rights like freedom of expression under President Putin.

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