RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST and journalist, Vladimir Kara-Murza, faces up to 25 years in jail. He is charged with high treason and spreading false information about the Russian army. His “crime” is that he has spoken out repeatedly against the Putin regime and against the war in Ukraine. He likened his trial to the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s.
Dozens of Russian journalists and rights activists – many of whom have fled the country – have written a letter calling for Kara-Murza to be freed, saying the charges against him are baseless and politically motivated. The letter said: “Prosecute murderers and criminals rather than honest and responsible citizens who dare to think and speak the truth. Stop Russia’s new slide toward Stalinism and a totalitarian system.”
This is the statement Kara-Murza made to the court.
Members of the court: I was sure, after two decades spent in Russian politics, after all that I have seen and experienced, that nothing can surprise me anymore. I must admit that I was wrong. I’ve been surprised by the extent to which my trial, in its secrecy and its contempt for legal norms, has surpassed even the “trials” of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s and ’70s. And that’s not even to mention the harshness of the 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. For me, as a historian, this is an occasion for reflection.
At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances was “remorse for what [the accused] has done.” And although there is little that’s amusing about my present situation, I could not help smiling: the 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 Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I subscribe to 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 rearview 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 dissipate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when at the official level it will be recognized that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who kindled and unleashed this war, rather than those who tried to stop it, will be recognized as criminals.
This day will come as inevitably as spring follows even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf. From this realisation, from this reflection, the long, difficult but vital path toward the recovery and restoration of Russia, its return to the community of civilized countries, will begin.
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.