Russian-Jewish dissident handed 25-year sentence for treason, denigrating army

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., twice a survivor of poisoning attempts he blames on Kremlin, convicted by court following speech in Arizona denouncing Ukraine invasion

Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza is escorted to a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia, February 8, 2023. (AP Photo)
Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza is escorted to a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia, February 8, 2023. (AP Photo)

MOSCOW  — A top Kremlin foe was convicted Monday on charges of treason and denigrating the Russian military and sentenced him to 25 years in prison after a trial that marked the latest move in a relentless crackdown on the opposition amid the fighting in Ukraine.

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., a prominent opposition activist who twice survived poisonings he blamed on the Kremlin, has been behind bars since his arrest a year ago. The 41-year-old has rejected the charges against him as political and likened the judicial proceedings against him to the show trials during the rule of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

In his final statement last week, Kara-Murza, whose mother is Jewish, said that he remains proud of standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “dictatorship” and his decision to send troops into Ukraine.

“I know that the day will come when the darkness engulfing our country will clear,” Kara-Murza, a father of three, said at his closed trial last week in remarks that were posted on social networks and Russian opposition media. “And then our society will open its eyes and shudder when it realizes what terrible crimes were committed in its name.”

Amnesty International denounced the sentence as “yet another chilling example of the systematic repression of civil society, which has broadened and accelerated” after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine.

“This verdict wrongly conflates human rights activism with ‘high treason’ and is reminiscent of Stalin-era repression,” Amnesty’s Russia Director, Natalia Zviagina, said in a statement.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian opposition activist arrives to lay flowers near the place where Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down, in Moscow, Russia, on February 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The group declared Kara-Murza a prisoner of conscience convicted solely for his political beliefs and demanded his immediate and unconditional release.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the sentence.

According to a lawyer for Kara-Murza, the dissident has been allowed to keep a copy of Natan Sharansky’s 1988 book detailing his experience as a prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union.

Sharansky, who spent nine years in a Russian prison on trumped-up treason and espionage charges, has called the prosecution of Kara-Murza for criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine “evidence that Russia has returned to Stalinist times.”

The charges against Kara-Murza stem from his March 2022 speech to the Arizona House of Representatives in which he denounced Russia’s military action in Ukraine. While he was in custody, investigators added the treason charges linked to his public speeches abroad.

Russia adopted a law criminalizing spreading “false information” about its military days after it sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Authorities have used the law to stifle criticism of what the Kremlin calls “a special military operation.”

Kara-Murza, a journalist, was an associate of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was killed near the Kremlin in 2015. Kara-Murza survived poisonings in 2015 and 2017 that he blamed on the Kremlin. Russian officials have denied responsibility.

Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Kara-Murza’s health has deteriorated in custody, leading to the development of polyneuropathy in both his feet, according to his lawyers.

Another prominent opposition figure, Ilya Yashin, was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison late last year on charges of discrediting the military.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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