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The Case for Vladimir Kara-Murza: The Ongoing Legal Battle to Save a True Russian Patriot

On April 17, 2023, a panel of judges chaired by Sergei Podoprigov, an individual sanctioned under the U.S. Magnitsky Act of 2012, convicted and sentenced Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison. Suffering from polyneuropathy following two near-fatal poisonings by the Kremlin, Kara-Murza’s health is rapidly deteriorating. With his recent transfer from his current prison outside Moscow to a Siberian Gulag in Omsk, and Alexei Navalny’s murder, the prison term constitutes a possible death sentence. (Read our Assistant Director’s op-ed in The Washington Post about his case and his radio interview for BBC News.)

Putin’s motivations for imprisoning Kara-Murza offers ample proof of as to why his release is should be a priority for not only the West, but indeed the entire world. As a leader committed to democratizing Russia, Vladimir Kara-Murza provides an alternative to the authoritarianism spearheaded by Putin and the Kremlin.

Led by Evgenia Kara-Murza, an esteemed human rights defender and Vladimir’s wife, a coalition of NGOs and human rights lawyers have continued to elevate his case and advocate for his release. We have sent multiple letters to the Secretary of State and to the President himself. Their influence built a bipartisan coalition of 81 senators and representatives requesting Secretary of State Antony Blinken to declare Vladimir Kara-Murza “unlawfully or wrongfully detained.” Furthermore, their efforts led to Magnitsky Sanctions for seven officials responsible for his illegal detention. In Canada, Parliament granted Vladimir Kara-Murza honorary citizenship.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, as characterized by the late Senator John McCain, is a “brave, outspoken, and relentless advocate for freedom and democracy in Russia,” and introduced Mr. Kara- Murza as ‘‘a personal hero whose courage, selflessness, and idealism I find awe-inspiring.” The two friends shared an intrinsic connection rooted in their shared principles of a free and fair world. Their bond was not only that of close colleagues as exemplified by Kara-Murza serving as a pallbearer at McCain’s funeral.

The McCain Institute gave him the Sedona Forum Courage Award, we asked for sanctions, we sent a public letter to Secretary Blinken , and signed a joint-statement on the anniversary of his unlawful, arbitrary, and wrongful arrest. We held a joint high-level in-person event in The U.S. Capitol where 11 Senators and Representatives spoke to a standing-only crowd for two hours, and where one of Vladimir and Evgenia’s daughters bravely spoke about her father publicly for the first time. 

However, the political efforts have met continuous challenges. Despite direct coalition letters to President Biden and Secretary Blinken, the administration declines to change Vladimir Kara-Murza’s status under the Levinson Act. In Moscow, frequent and credible threats forced Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, to flee and continue his efforts in exile. Denied legal appeal in Russian courts for suspension of sentence on medical grounds, a remedy required by the criminal law, Kara-Murza remains in prison.

With worsening health and time, both important factors, international pressure remains the clear avenue for release. On June 22, 2023, the informal coalition of international lawyers for Kara-Murza asked the Human Rights Foundation to submit on their and Kara-Murza’s behalf an “Urgent Appeal” to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the four Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, and Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Expression. Reviewing his Kara-Murza’s case, these officials will report on his condition and make direct asks of the Russian government. So far only Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, has put out a statement. 

On Sunday, February 25, 2024, The Washington Post published our full-page advertisement calling POTUS to use more tools to secure his release:

“[W]e request that you accelerate your efforts to release imprisoned Russian prodemocracy advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is an extremely vulnerable prisoner, and we fear that he may be the Kremlin’s next victim if the United States does not act swiftly.”

We continue to insist that the governments where Vladimir Kara-Murza holds citizenship or permanent resident status (Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom) fight on his behalf. Current prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and President Joe Biden must fervently push for Kara-Murza’s release on humanitarian grounds. Not just to save the life of one man but to begin rebuilding Russia free of Putin’s authoritarian grip and led by men of character, principle, and courage.

The case for Vladimir Kara-Murza, and his fight for a free and liberal, federalist democracy in Russia, is strong. Let’s focus all our efforts, energy, and innovative ideas to free him now, regardless of the bureaucratic wrinkles, lest he dies in prison or is murdered like Navalny. Senator John McCain would expect nothing less.

On March 29, 2022, activist, journalist, and Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza spoke before a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing about the Putin regime’s censorship of journalists and the broadcast media. On April 22, less than a month after this speech, authorities in Russia detained Kara-Murza for spreading “deliberately false information.” In a show trial charging and convicting Kara-Murza with high treason, the prosecution cited the March 29 speech as evidence of undermining Russian security and assisting NATO member countries. Read the transcript of the speech and the Q&A session from members of the U.S. Congress by clicking the button below.