OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 302: A quarter of a century in a penal colony

22 April 2023

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

Vladimir Kara-Murza. Photo: SOTA


Hello! The defendants in a case of conspiracy to commit arson on a police van during an anti-war demonstration have been sentenced, the politician Vladimir Kara-Murza has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, and the State Duma has passed a bill on life imprisonment for state treason.

Two residents of Omsk, Vladimir Sergeev and Anton Zhuchkov, have been sentenced to eight and ten years in prison respectively in a case of conspiracy to commit arson on a police van during an anti-war demonstration. Sergeev and Zhuchkov were found guilty of preparing to commit an act of terrorism. The men were detained in Moscow on 6 March, 2002. According to the investigation, police found Molotov cocktails in Sergeev’s backpack. Zhuchkov was also charged with the distribution of narcotic substances in significant volume. At the time of their arrest, the friends had taken methadone capsules, in order to commit suicide – Zhuchkov had allegedly bought them for himself and Sergeev.

  • Why is this important? It’s unknown whether the men would have actually set light to the police car. Zhuchkov claimed that he only wanted to kill himself ‘so as not to see what’s going on in the world’. His lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov also mentioned that police officers only found a bottle of kerosene and a cylinder of gas in Sergeev’s backpack, but there was no lighter among his things – meaning it was impossible to set the mixture on fire. Additionally, experts concluded that the bottle of incendiary mixture could not have exploded without a so-called ‘initiator’, which was not present in the bottles that were found.

Vladimir Kara-Murza has begun serving a sentence of 25 years in a strict-regime prison colony. The politician was found guilty under the article on ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, activities of an ‘undesirable organisation’ and state treason. All this is due to his public speeches in various countries criticising the Russian authorities. Before his conviction, Kara-Murza was kept in pre-trial detention for almost a year, during which time he developed serious health problems, the consequences of poisonings in 2015 and 2017. The politician was diagnosed with polyneuropathy, a disorder on the list of conditions that should prevent a person from serving a prison sentence.

  • Why do I need to know this? Such a sentence seems monstrous even in comparison to other sentences handed down to defendants in political cases in recent years. Most of the sentence is for treason. Valeriya Vetoshkina, a lawyer for the First Division human rights project noted that this was the first publicly known case of treason in a form not involving the transfer of state secrets.

The Duma has passed amendments on life imprisonment for treason in their second and third readings. In addition, the amendments introduce a new article into the Russian Criminal Code – ‘Provision of assistance in the execution of decisions of international organisations in which the Russian Federation is not a party, or of foreign state bodies’. The amendments also toughen the punishment under the articles on sabotage, terrorist activity and attacks on persons and institutions under international protection. In addition, the Duma passed amendments that allow for naturalised citizens to be stripped of citizenship for discrediting the army or cooperation with an ‘undesirable organisation’. 

  • Why is this important? Both bills aim to persecute those who disagree with the authorities and speak out against the war. The life imprisonment for treason amendments came after the conviction of Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was found guilty under this article because of public statements he made. Apparently, 25 years of imprisonment seemed to the Russian authorities to be insufficient punishment – now they will probably want to jail opposition activists for life.

A provocation has been set up against Aleksei Navalny in the penal colony where he is serving his sentence. According to lawyer Vadim Kobzev, a man who ‘has great problems with hygiene’ has been moved back into the politician’s cell. Kobzev believes that prison staff provoked the opposition politician to use force against his cellmate. The politician was dragged into the cell by force, ‘and was kneed in the groin, although he did not show any resistance’. Once inside, Navalny ‘did not use violence against his cellmate, but he did grab him by the scruff of the neck and drag him towards the exit’. After that, prison officers grabbed the opposition politician, then told him that a new criminal case had been opened – under an article concerning the disruption of the activities of an institution that ensures people are isolated from society. 

  • Why do I need to know this? The prison authorities are finding ever more perverse ways of putting pressure on Aleksei Navalny – they are not letting him serve his unjustly-imposed sentence in peace. The politician is repeatedly thrown into a punishment cell for absurd reasons, denied access to his lawyers and not given his letters. The health of the opposition politician’s health is rapidly deteriorating in prison – he has started having stomach problems, but he is not given any medication. His defence suggests that prison staff may even be ‘harassing’ Navalny.


‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. Protestant preacher Eduard Charov has been fined 65,000 roubles for anti-war publications and criticism of the authorities. We explain how the Russian authorities persecute Orthodox clerics and Christian activists of other denominations who disagree with the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church and the state on the war in Ukraine. Read the story on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.

The European Court of Human Rights has also ruled on 29 applications filed by lawyers from OVD-Info and the Memorial Human Rights Centre. Their clients, who were detained at protests in 2017 and 2019, were awarded compensation of 3,500 and 4,000 euros.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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