The First Court of Appeals in Moscow has rejected an appeal against the sentence of opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported citing the court decision. In April, the activist was sentenced to 25 years in prison for treason, spreading “fakes” about the Russian army, and his involvement in an “undesirable organization.”
Besides being sentenced to serve his term in a maximum-security penal colony, Kara-Murza also received a fine of 400,000 roubles ($4,360), a one-and-a-half-year restriction of freedom, and a seven-year prohibition on practicing journalism, all of which will remain in effect after his release, according to the independent human rights project OVD-Info.
Prior to the announcement of the verdict, Kara-Murza’s Telegram channel released the politician’s final statement in court to the public, as the court session was closed to the media.
The Insider quotes Vladimir Kara-Murza’s translated final statement in court in full:
“Throughout this whole process — first in the Moscow City Court, now here in the Court of Appeals — I have been left with a very strange feeling. Judicial procedures, by their very nature, should have something to do with the law. But everything that is happening to me has nothing to do with the law, except in the sense of its complete opposite.
The law — both Russian and international — prohibits waging a war of aggression. But for more than 16 months, a man who calls himself the president of my country has been waging a brutal, unprovoked, aggressive war against a neighboring country: killing its citizens, bombing its cities, seizing its territories. The law — both Russian and international — prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects. But in the 16 months of Putin's aggression in Ukraine, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded, and thousands of hospitals, schools and homes have been destroyed. The law — both Russian and international — prohibits war propaganda. But war propaganda is all I hear from morning to night on the television set that runs in my prison cell.
Today in our country, it is not those who wage this criminal war who are being tried, but those who oppose it. Journalists who tell the truth. Artists who put up anti-war stickers. Priests who remind us of the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Teachers who call things by their proper names. Parents whose children draw anti-war pictures. MPs who allow themselves to question the appropriateness of children's competitions when children are being murdered in a neighboring country. Or, as in my case, politicians who speak out openly against this war and against this regime. Twenty-five years [in prison] for five public statements. As the head of my escort in Moscow City Court joked: ‘You must’ve given one hell of a speech.’
All this has already happened in our country. In 1968, those who took part in a demonstration on Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia were sentenced to camps and exile, and in 1980, the academic [Andrei] Sakharov was exiled to the closed city of Gorky for speaking out against the war in Afghanistan. But not much time has passed — not by historical standards, but by human ones — and the Russian president in Prague condemned the occupation and laid flowers at the memorial to its victims, and the highest legislative body of our country recognized the war in Afghanistan as deserving of moral and political condemnation.
The same will be true of the current war in Ukraine — much sooner than it may seem to those who unleashed it. Because in addition to judicial laws, there are historical laws, and no one has ever managed to abolish them. And then the real criminals will be tried, including those whose arrest warrants have already been issued by the International Criminal Court. As we know, war crimes have no statute of limitations.
To those who organized my trial and other show trials against opponents of the war; to those who try to portray opponents of the authorities as ‘traitors to the motherland’; to those who are so nostalgic for the Soviet system, I would advise them to remember how it ended. All systems based on lies and violence end the same way.”
Kara-Murza, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, received his sentence in April, with the Moscow City Court granting the same sentence requested by the prosecution. He was given 7 years for spreading “fakes” about the Russian army, 3 years for involvement in an “undesirable” organization, and 18 years for state treason. In total, he was sentenced to 25 years through the partial addition of punishments from each case.
According to the investigation, the politician, driven by “political hatred,” made “false claims about the Russian Armed Forces” during his speech in the House of Representatives of the US state of Arizona on March 15, 2022. In the address, Kara-Murza stated that the Russian military bombed residential areas, maternity hospitals, hospitals, and schools in Ukraine:
“I so wish we had been wrong on this, but today the whole world sees what the Putin regime is doing to Ukraine: the cluster bombs on residential areas, the bombings of maternity wards and hospitals and schools, the war crimes… These are war crimes that are being committed by the dictatorial regime in the Kremlin against a nation in the middle of Europe, and this is unfortunately where all the years of Putin’s rule have led us,” Kara-Murza said.
Kara-Murza was charged with allegedly “spreading false information about the Russian army” on April 22, 2022, and was remanded into custody immediately after leaving a special detention center where he was serving an administrative arrest for disobeying police orders. He was added to Russia’s register of “foreign agents” on the same day. In July, new charges of cooperating with an “undesirable” foreign NGO were introduced, and in October, Vadim Prokhorov, one of his lawyers, said that Kara-Murza was also charged with treason, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
During the verdict announcement in the Moscow City Court, special note was given to the fact that Kara-Murza holds dual citizenship, being a citizen of both Russia and the United Kingdom, and possesses a residence permit in the United States. Prior to his arrest, he was registered in Moscow and resided in the US state of Virginia.
Kara-Murza’s apparent treason was based on three instances: his speeches in the NATO Assembly in Lisbon, at the Helsinki Committee in Oslo, and the US Helsinki Commission. During these speeches, Kara-Murza criticized the Russian authorities, questioned the legitimacy of elections in the country, and advocated for Russian citizens to have access to truthful information about the war in Ukraine.
Since May 2022, the politician was kept behind bars in Moscow’s Vodnik pre-trial detention center. After spending a year in Vodnik, the politician's health substantially deteriorated: during his stay in a punishment cell, where he was placed in February, Kara-Murza began to lose sensation in his limbs. At the end of March, his lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said that both feet of his client were affected. The politician was diagnosed with polyneuropathy — Prokhorov emphasized that the disorder is on the list of diseases that prevent serving a sentence.
The reason for the development of polyneuropathy, according to the lawyer, was that the politician was poisoned twice in 2015 and 2017. Being incarcerated had a negative impact on the course of the disease.
In May 2015 and February 2017, Kara-Murza suffered two similar near-fatal medical emergencies. Both left him in a prolonged coma with severe shutdown of his vital functions. Despite Kara-Murza’s suspicions of being poisoned as retaliation for his political activities, Russian authorities refused to initiate criminal proceedings into either case. Two Russian hospital reports and three international examinations have concluded that the incidents were caused by intoxication with an unidentified substance. The exact cause and source of the poisonings has remained a mystery.
Following the rejection of the appeal, the UK Government introduced sanctions against six individuals — judges, prosecutors, and an expert witness — “for their involvement in the politically motivated conviction of Vladimir Kara-Murza.” In April 2022, the UK Government sanctioned five individuals — a judge, 2 investigators involved in Kara-Murza’s trial and 2 FSB agents involved in his poisoning and arrest.
Multiple international NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Memorial, have condemned Russia's conviction of Kara-Murza as politically motivated and demanded his immediate release.
Cover photo: Screenshot, BBC