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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

Thomas Rowley
17 April 2023, 9.59am

Vladimir Kara-Murza told a Moscow court on 10 April that "I love my country and believe in our people"


(c) Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images. All rights reserved

Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza has today been sentenced to 25 years in a Moscow court on charges of treason, “fake news” and participating in an “undesirable organisation”.

In effect, the court has criminalised Kara-Murza’s criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and his role in lobbying for the Global Magnitsky Act – under which the UK, EU, US and Canada may sanction individuals who violate human rights. The 42-year-old joins more than 200 people who have so far come under investigation for speaking out about Russia’s invasion.

It’s a poignant moment for the country’s opposition, as thousands of supporters have fled Russia while activists and leaders have been locked up. The 25-year sentence recalls the verdicts handed out by Stalin’s judges in the 1930s.

But it also looks like revenge against the journalist-turned-politician who led an international campaign that has targeted the Russian judges and public officials who preside over the daily grind of Putin’s regime. As Russian independent news website Verstka reported last week, the judge that sentenced Kara-Murza today was responsible for approving the pre-trial detention of auditor Sergei Magnitsky in 2008.

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Magnitsky’s death in prison sparked a sanctions regime that ended up with numerous Russian officials on US sanctions lists, not least of all the same judge Sergei Podoprigovorov, who later challenged his US sanction listing, saying he simply happened to be a duty judge on the day Magnitsky was brought before the court.

As Kara-Murza starts his sentence, there are fears that his fate could mirror Magnitsky’s. Kara-Murza’s health has deteriorated while in prison, his lawyer says, but more worryingly, he has been reportedly poisoned on two occasions, in 2015 and 2017. His ally Alexey Navalny has also been poisoned previously, and his team has reported his worrying health situation, suggesting that he may have been poisoned again in prison. “Our theory is that they are gradually killing [Navalny], using slow-acting poison which is applied through food,” claimed a Navalny team member last week.

Below, openDemocracy reproduces a translation of Kara-Murza’s final defence speech, made in court on 10 April.

“Nothing can surprise me any more”

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.


Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has criminalised spreading information about the war and war crimes


(c) Sergei Karpukhin / Getty Images. All rights reserved

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.

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

Vladimir Kara-Murza

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.

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