– Kara-Murza should never have been in prison

Vladimir Kara-Murza is one of Russia’s most influential, principled, and honest opposition politicians. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Moscow court today.

– Kara-Murza has been found guilty of discrediting the Russian military and state treason. However, the real reason for the brutal verdict is that he has criticised the Putin regime for violating Russian and international law in Ukraine and domestically, says Berit Lindeman, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. – He exercised his human rights to free speech. Those involved in the persecution of Kara-Murza should be targeted with sanctions by Norway and other democratic countries.

Kara-Murza’s high-profile trial is the latest in a series of cases against opposition and human rights voices in Russia in a crackdown that has intensified since the start of the war in Ukraine. The case started with his arrest in Moscow on Monday 11 April 2022, on charges of disobeying police orders. It became soon clear, however, that the arrest was based on his opposition to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Kremlin’s actions to silence any criticism. The arrest came hours after he referred to Putin’s government as “a regime of murderers”.

Prosecutors soon added new allegations of discrediting the Russian military to his case. State treason charges were later included, with prosecutors citing remarks he made in speeches outside of Russia that criticized Kremlin policies. One of the speeches referred to was held in the Oslo Town Hall, at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Sakharov Prize Award Ceremony.

– Kara-Murza has been our partner in arranging meetings in the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to criticise the practice of political imprisonment in Russia and other East European and Central Asian states, says Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. – In these meetings, we also made efforts to convince European politicians to use Magnitsky sanctions against those who put innocent people in prison. Now is the time to sanction those involved in the persecution of Kara-Murza. Governments should step up to use their arsenal of diplomatic and punitive tools to support Kara-Murza and the more than 550 political prisoners in Russia.

Kara-Murza has been deemed unfit to stay in prison by Russian physicians. He survived two poisoning attempts within a short time span (in 2015 and 2017) and has medical conditions that in themselves are compelling reasons to release him from custody. As a result of the poisoning, he suffers from polyneuropathy which threatens him with lower-body paralysis. There are strong indications that the poisoning was organised by Russia’s security services.

– First, the Russian state tried to kill him by poisoning, and now it aims to neutralize him by a prison sentence that in reality means that he risks staying in prison until the end of his life, says Lindeman. – The treatment of Kara-Murza violates human rights but is also contrary to Russia’s interests. Any state would benefit from the activities of politicians and human rights defenders like him. The tragedy today is that Russia instead put such a person into prison.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza (Russian: Владимир Владимирович Кара-Мурза; born 7 September 1981) is a Russian politician, historian, journalist, author, filmmaker, and human rights defender. As a politician, he worked closely with the late Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on a street close to the Kremlin on 27 February 2015.

Kara-Murza is a senior advisor of Human Rights First and a columnist for the Washington Post. He is co-founder of the Russian Anti-War Committee established to oppose Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Chair of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, and Senior Fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. He has served as vice-chairman of Open Russia, which promotes civil society and democracy in Russia, was elected to the Coordinating Council of the Russian Opposition in 2012 and served as deputy leader of the People’s Freedom Party from 2015 to 2016.

Kara-Murza played an important role in the lobbying and implementation of the Magnitsky Act which allows the US government to freeze the assets of Russian and other government officials deemed to be human rights offenders. He also played important roles in lobbying efforts for similar legislation in Canada, the UK, and the European Union. He has received several awards for his work, including the Magnitsky Human Rights Award; Sakharov Prize for Journalism as an Act of Conscience; Geneva Summit Courage Award; Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize; Oxi Courage Award; Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Prize from 3 the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. The Council of Europe awarded him the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in October 2022.

Kara-Murza has faced two attempts to kill him by poison, in 2015 and 2017. According to investigations by Bellingcat, FSB agents were behind these attempts. He was arrested and jailed in April 2022 and has been charged with treason, as well as other charges, which could keep him behind bars for many years.

There were several human rights violations committed in his case. Even though those responsible for the poisoning of Kara-Murza have not been identified and sentenced in a court of law, strong evidence suggests that they worked for the Federal Security Service (FSB). The poisoning, therefore, constituted violations of Kara-Murza’s right to life, as defined by the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The lack of genuine investigation in the cases constituted a further violation of the right to an “effective remedy”. It is therefore clear that Kara-Murza already in 2015 and 2017 was a victim of serious human rights violations.

The arrest, charges, and verdict against him constitute new serious violations that should be met by firm actions by the international community, including by Norway and like-minded states imposing restrictive measures against those responsible for the violations. Kara-Murza was arrested and imprisoned in April 2022 on charges of disobeying police orders. New charges have, however, been layered on top since then, including treason, which could see him serve up to 25 years in prison on conviction. The three counts in the treason indictment are based on Kara-Murza’s:

− Address to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly about the illegitimacy of Putin’s term-limit waiver;

− Speech at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee award ceremony for Russian historian and political prisoner Yuri Dmitriev discussing repression in Putin’s Russia; and

− Testimony before the U.S. Congress’s Helsinki Commission on the pervasive media censorship imposed by Putin to hide the war crimes his forces are committing in Ukraine.

According to the indictment, these speeches “threatened the security and constitutional order of the Russian Federation,” “damaged the international reputation of the Russian Federation,” and gave Russia an “image as an aggressor state in the eyes of the international community.”

A further problematic circumstance related to the trial is that the presiding judge, Sergey Podoprigorov, is included in the so-called US Magnitsky List. Kara-Murza played a significant role in lobbying for the US Magnitsky legislation and documenting Russian officials to be listed for their involvement in the killing of Sergei Magnitsky or other serious human rights violations.

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Berit Lindeman

Secretary GeneralEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 909 33 379Twitter: @LindemanBerit
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Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal

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Dag A. Fedøy

Director of CommunicationsEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 920 54 309Twitter: @dagfedoy
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