The closed-door trial of Russian pro-democracy activist and human rights defender Vladimir Kara-Murza began in Moscow on March 13. Russian authorities have brought three politically motivated charges against Kara-Murza in relation to statements he made opposing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. If convicted, he faces decades in prison.
The United States has called for his immediate and unconditional release.
Kara-Murza was arrested in April 2022 and has been held in detention ever since. He was accused of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army and was subsequently labelled a “foreign agent.” Additional charges, including treason and cooperation with an “undesirable” organization, have been added to the list of his so-called crimes.
A top advisor to slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza has courageously defended human rights in Russia and has been repeatedly targeted by Russian authorities for repression. He suffered severe poisonings in 2015 and 2017, which he believes were directly related to his political activities.
In early March, the United States imposed sanctions on six Russian nationals for their involvement in serious human right abuses against Kara-Murza.
The Department of the Treasury designated three: Andrei Andreevich Zadachin, a Special Investigator assigned to the Chief Investigative Directorate, who ordered that a criminal case be initiated against Kara-Murza based on his expression of anti-war views; Elena Anatolievna Lenskaya, a judge who oversaw Kara-Murza’s pretrial detention hearing and ordered he be held in pretrial detention; and Danil Yurievich Mikheev, who served as an expert witness for the Russian government on the case against Kara-Murza.
In a complementary action, the State Department announced visa restrictions against Lenskaya and Zadachin, making them and their immediate families ineligible for entry into the United States.
In addition, the State Department sanctioned Russian government officials Oleg Mikhailovich Sviridenko, Diana Igorevna Mishchenko, and Illya Pavlovich Kozlov. Sviridenko is the Russian Deputy Minister of Justice who oversees the prosecution of criminal cases, including Kara-Murza’s; Mischenko is the judge who issued the initial ruling approving Kara-Murza’s arrest and sentenced him to 15 days in jail. And Kozlov is the judge who denied Kara-Murza’s appeal of Mischenko’s administrative arrest ruling.
In a written statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken again called for Kara-Murza’s immediate and unconditional release, emphasizing that the United States “is committed to ensuring that Vladimir Putin’s attempts to silence critics will not succeed in suppressing the truth about his brutal war of choice against Ukraine, which continues to cause unconscionable death, abuse, and destruction.”