Human Rights
Prisoner of Conscience: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russia

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An attempted assassination. Investigated for high treason and labeled a “foreign agent”. This might sound like a plot of a Hollywood spy movie but unfortunately it’s the real life story of Russian political activist, historian, and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza.

While many other opposition leaders decided to leave Russia after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, he stayed put. In fact, Kara-Murza, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, was arrested in April, hours after he gave an interview for CNN that described Putin’s rule as a “regime of murderers”.

"We all understand the risk of opposition activity in Russia. But I couldn't stay silent in the face of what's happening, because silence is a form of complicity," he said in a letter from jail, sent to a BBC journalist and cited by an article published in November 2022.

Kara-Murza was accused of condemning the Russian President’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russian authorities saw as spreading false information about the conflict. Under a new Russian law passed to silence any anti-war rhetoric, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

In July Kara-Murza was also accused of “organizing the activities of an undesirable organization”. And in October Russian authorities added high treason to his charges. If convicted, he faces up to 24 years in jail.

"We all understand the risk of opposition activity in Russia. But I couldn't stay silent in the face of what's happening, because silence is a form of complicity"

Vladimir Kara-Murza

Kara-Murza is an easy target. He co-founded the Russian Anti-War Committee. He was also a friend of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was shot dead in 2015.

Following his detention, a number of international human rights organizations condemned his arrest, saying that he was detained on trumped up charges and describing him as a political prisoner.

“Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities enacted a witch-hunt against politicians, activists and journalists who dared to condemn the Kremlin and its war of aggression. Vladimir Kara-Murza was among the first state critics targeted under this vicious campaign,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. “Vladimir Kara-Murza should be immediately and unconditionally released, as should all those who have been prosecuted and convicted for peacefully criticizing the Russian armed forces”.

This is not the first time Kara-Murza was attacked. In 2015 and then again two years later, he collapsed and fell into a coma after an alleged poisoning attack. While doctors said that his chances of survival were slim, he beat death despite the odds. However, the causes of his poisonings were never identified. Despite those attempts on his life, he was undeterred, and continued to openly criticize Putin. 

In October 2022 Kara-Murza was awarded the Vaclav Havel Award, given by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, for outstanding achievements in the field of human rights.

“Despite the risks, Vladimir Kara-Murza had the courage to return to his country to continue his fight, even while having the possibility to stay safe," said PACE President Tiny Kox, who chaired the selection panel, while presenting the award. “It takes incredible courage in today’s Russia to stand against the power in place. Today, Mr Kara-Murza is showing this courage, from his prison cell.”

His wife, Yevhenia, received the award on his behalf. "The current Russian authorities – without intending to do so – have painted the portrait of a true patriot,” Yevgeniya said as she received the award on his behalf.

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Disclaimer: As of December 12, 2022, research shows that Vladimir Kara-Murza is still in custody, awaiting trial.

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Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe

We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many. 

Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience  #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website