14 March 2023
By Aleksandr Podrabinek
The trial of Vladimir Kara-Murza began in Moscow City Court on 13 March at 4pm, two hours before the end of the court’s working day. The trial was declared closed, but Aleksandr Podrabinek managed to find out some details of the hearing.
Journalists, diplomats and friends of the defendant were not allowed into the courtroom. They were not even allowed to go up to the fourth floor to sit in the hallway near the courtroom. The court bailiffs explained that, if they were allowed up there, journalists could eavesdrop at the door which was not allowed because the hearing was closed to the public.
The trial was indeed closed to the public. For this purpose, the report of the forensic analysis, conducted by one of the institutions of the Federal Security Service, was attached to the case. It was enough to classify the case and for it to be heard in closed session.
Three judges – Sergei Podoprigorov, Vitaly Bilitsky and Ekaterina Dorokhina – are hearing the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza. If it is true that everyone has a skeleton in their closet, it is likely that in the closet of every Russian judge there is an entire cemetery.
At the very start of the hearing, Vadim Prokhorov moved that Judge Podoprigorov be recused on grounds that he was concerned in the Magnitsky Act, a US law that imposes personal sanctions on those implicated in the 2009 death in a Moscow prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Kara-Murza is accused, among other things, of promoting the passing of the Magnitsky Act.
This is true in all respects. Judge Podoprigorov really did rule that Sergei Magnitsky should be remanded in custody. Kara-Murza did lobby for the passage of the Magnitsky Act in the US. This clash of positions has no procedural consequences for Kara-Murza, but for Judge Podoprigorov, it is a conflict of interest. How can he judge a person for his involvement in the adoption of this Act, when he himself had a hand in the reasons for its appearance? Thereupon the judges deliberated in private and decided there were no grounds for recusal.
Other motions of the defence were also rejected without any legal grounds: to consider the case in open hearing and to admit one more counsel for the defence to the case. The state prosecutor, Boris Loktionov, read the indictment, which stated that Vladimir Kara-Murza discredited the government and President Putin personally in the most shameless way and also damaged the interests of the Russian Federation. The defendant was invited to state his position.
Vladimir Kara-Murza pleaded not guilty. As always, he spoke eloquently and persuasively, emphasizing the political essence of the case – and it affected the judges like holy water the devil. At one point, Podoprigorov could stand it no more and interrupted Kara-Murza, asking him to speak to the substance of the case without going into politics. Vladimir demanded that his right to defend himself not be limited. The judge immediately said that he did not intend to limit Kara-Murza’s right to a defence, but was asking him to speak without political slogans.
‘Why are you telling us about the 1950s, about history?’ asked Judge Podoprigorov, accustomed to political unanimity and an unambiguous understanding of history within the walls of his court, as if offended.
The tried-and-tested Soviet system of a judges’ troika, handed down from Brezhnev times to the present day, then started singing the old song about there being no political prisoners in the country and the case being purely criminal.
In this ‘purely criminal’ case, Vladimir Kara-Murza faces up to 25 years in prison. This is more than the penalty for the murder of two or more people committed with particular cruelty and in a generally dangerous manner.
The next court hearing is scheduled for Thursday, 16 March, at 11 o’clock. The address of the court is: Moscow, Bogorodsky Val, 8. Room 421 of the main building.
- Note: Vladimir Kara-Murza has been held on remand in Moscow since April 2022. He is accused of publicly spreading information known to be false about the use of the Russian armed forces. The reason for accusing him of ‘fake news’ was a speech to the House of Representatives of Arizona (USA), during which he spoke out against the war in Ukraine. The politician maintains his innocence of the charges.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove