After two decades spent in Russian politics, after all that I have seen and experienced, I was sure that nothing can surprise me any more. I must admit that I was wrong.
I’ve been surprised by how far my trial, in its secrecy and contempt for legal norms, has surpassed even the “trials” of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. And that’s not even to mention the harsh sentence requested by the prosecution or the talk of “enemies of the state”. In this respect, we’ve gone beyond the 1970s – all the way back to the 1930s.
As a historian, for me this is an occasion for reflection.
At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances [in my case] was “remorse for what [the accused] has done”. And although there is little that’s funny about my current situation, I couldn’t help but smile: A criminal, of course, must repent of his deeds. I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.
Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it. I am proud that [assassinated opposition politician] Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I support every word that I have spoken and every word of which I have been accused by this court. I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in the democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and for the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price – the price of war.
In their last statements to the court, defendants usually ask for an acquittal. For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict. But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rear view mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today.
But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will evaporate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when it will be officially recognised that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who fostered and unleashed this war will be recognised as criminals, rather than those who tried to stop it.
This day will come as spring comes after even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf. Through this realisation, through this reflection, the long, difficult but vital path toward Russia’s recovery and restoration begins, its return to the community of civilised countries.
Even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people. I believe that we can walk this path.
Source: Thomas Rowley, “Poignant final defence speech of jailed Russian opposition politician: Vladimir Kara-Murza gave this speech to a Russian court before receiving his 25-year sentence for ‘treason’ and other charges,” openDemocracy, 17 April 2023
A Russian court sentenced opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on charges of treason and “fake news” Monday, capping a high-profile trial of one of the country’s most defiant anti-war voices.
Moscow City Court found Kara-Murza, 41, guilty of treason, “false information about the Russian army,” and affiliation with an “undesirable organization,” Interfax reported.
“Russia will be free, tell everyone,” Kara-Murza said after the verdict, according to the independent news site Avtozak.info.
Russia has witnessed a widespread wartime crackdown on dissent, but the severity of Kara-Murza’s sentence marks a new record as the Kremlin seeks to muzzle any criticism of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The Western-educated politician was detained in April 2022 on charges of “spreading false information about the Russian army” in an address to U.S. state legislators a month earlier.
Kara-Murza was later accused of being affiliated with an “undesirable organization” for participating in a conference in support of political prisoners. His treason charges came in October over anti-war comments made at three public events abroad.
Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of 25 years — the maximum possible jail term — for Kara-Murza.
“My self-esteem even went up [on the prosecutors’ request]. I realized I was doing everything right,” Kara-Murza’s lawyer Maria Eismont recounted her client as saying.
“Twenty-five years is the highest score I could get for what I did, what I believe in as a citizen, as a patriot, as a politician,” Eismont quoted him as saying, adding that he greeted the verdict “with a smile.”
His trial was held behind closed doors.
Monday’s hearing was attended by several Kara-Murza supporters and foreign diplomats including a U.S. embassy official named David Bernstein, according to the Mediazona news site.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Kara-Murza’s prison sentence, which his supporters and Western governments slammed as politically motivated.
U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy called Russia’s criminal prosecution of Kremlin critics “a symbol of weakness, not strength,” while Canadian Ambassador Alison LeClaire said Kara-Murza’s sentence marked a “dark turn” in Russia’s post-Soviet history.
The British Ambassador in Moscow Deborah Bronnert denounced the court ruling and called for the “immediate” release of Kara-Murza, a dual British-Russian citizen.
“The British government expresses solidarity with Vladimir Kara-Murza and his family,” Bronnert told journalists from the steps of the courthouse.
A Russian citizen by birth, Kara-Murza received British citizenship after moving to the United Kingdom with his mother when he was 15.
Russia’s Ambassador in London Andrei Kelin was summoned by the U.K. Foreign Office, which condemned Kara-Murza’s sentence as a violation of his right to a fair trial under international law.
The European Union denounced Kara-Murza’s sentence as “outrageously harsh” and called on Russia to provide access to health care for the ailing Kremlin critic.
The opposition activist suffers from a nerve condition called polyneuropathy which his lawyers say was due to poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017.
The condition has worsened in prison, and he was too unwell to attend some of his hearings, his lawyers said.
Kara-Murza says he was poisoned twice because of his political activities, but he continued to spend long periods of time in Russia.
Kara-Murza has said he stands by all of his political statements, including those opposing the Ukraine offensive.
“I subscribe to every word that I have said, that I am incriminated for today,” Kara-Murza said in his final address to court last week, highlighting his fight against the Ukraine offensive and President Vladimir Putin.
“Not only do I not repent for any of it — I am proud of it,” he said.
Germany condemned the “shocking level repression” in Russia on Monday, and Latvia announced it had banned 10 Russian nationals from traveling to the Baltic country in retaliation to the court ruling.
Source: “Kremlin critic Kara-Murza sentenced to 25 years in prison,” Moscow Times, 17 April 2023