28 March 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Human rights activist and journalist Aleksandr Podrabinek reports on the trial of politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, specially for Vot Tak.
The trial of Vladimir Kara-Murza is not going very well. After the first hearing on 13 March, proceedings have been postponed several times. This is unusual for the Russian judicial system, which although it has not yet reached the ‘heights’ of the Stalinist years, when courts handed down verdicts in absentia within minutes, neither is it accustomed to lengthy trials with thorough investigation of evidence. Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, says the authorities wish to conduct the trial at top speed, and if there is anything preventing them from doing so, then it is circumstances which are beyond their control.
These circumstances are of a sad nature. Last week at the trial, Kara-Murza couldn’t be taken from the remand prison to court because his health was so bad the prison doctors deemed it impossible for him to take part in the trial. In the Russian penitentiary system, such a decision is almost unthinkable: people are brought to court even when they are on the point of dying. There have been cases when defendants were brought to court on stretchers. The life of the person on remand has no worth, and no one will be held accountable for their death.
The Magnitsky Act is holding up the trial
That is how it always was, but the case of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in the Matrosskaya Tishina detention remand prison in 2009, apparently scared prison doctors. They were frightened not by the tragic death of the detainee, but by its consequences: the listing of the names of all those complicit in the tragedy to the sanctions lists of many nations. No one wants to come under the Magnitsky Act and lose any chance of visiting decent countries.
It is probably these very circumstances that are the reason for the cautious attitude with regard to Vladimir Kara-Murza’s health. On Monday, 27 March, he was even taken from the remand prison to the City Clinical Hospital No. 20 in the north of Moscow for an examination. This is a civilian hospital run by the Ministry of Health, but has a special section for people who are in detention with a tight security checkpoint, a separate police guard, and other features of a prison facility.
For a detainee, it is extremely difficult to get into this hospital for an examination. To do so, one must either have good connections or a lot of money, or be a person who has a high public profile. The latter is probably the case with Kara-Murza.
How exactly he was examined and to what conclusions the doctors came is not known. We know from Kara-Murza himself that he was diagnosed with polyneuropathy in both feet and that he was put on treatment. Injections are given to him in the medical unit of Vodnik Remand Prison No. 5, without transferring him to the hospital of Matrosskaya Tishina. We do not know what kind of treatment exactly was prescribed for him. The medical staff at Moscow’s City Clinical Hospital No. 20 refuse to talk about the case even with Kara-Murza’s lawyer Vadim Prokhorov. In such institutions, medical secrets often overlap with those of the investigative authorities, and all of this together becomes a state secret, which God forbid anyone should disclose.
You Can Only Love the Authorities
The latest court hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, 28 March. By 11 a.m. about two dozen people had gathered in the hall of Moscow City Court: friends of Kara-Murza, journalists, and representatives of Western embassies. They were not allowed to go up to the fourth floor where the case was to be heard. When asked ‘Why?’ two female security personnel in bailiff’s uniforms repeatedly replied that this was the order from their superiors. They also alluded to the fact that the trial of Kara-Murza was being held in closed session, although members of the public going to other trials were allowed into the corridors of the courthouse.
On one occasion I asked the guards whether they understood that they were acting illegally, to which they immediately answered they were only carrying out orders.
By 3 p.m. the hearing was over. According to Kara-Murza’s lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, all this time prosecutor Boris Loktionov had been presenting evidence for the prosecution. This consisted mostly of recordings and transcripts of various speeches by Kara-Murza. Neither Kara-Murza nor his lawyer denied these facts. All the information was taken from open sources, scrupulously typed up and added to the materials of the case by the investigator.
The essence of the charges is that Kara-Murza is critical of the government and its policies. This too is hard to argue against. In the view of the prosecutor’s office, this is a crime. You can only love the authorities.
Among other pieces of evidence, the prosecutor pulled out a picture of Boris Nemtsov at a rally or march. Nemtsov’s arm is raised, on which basis the prosecutor accused the late Nemtsov of Nazism, allegedly reproducing a Nazi salute. At that, Vladimir Kara-Murza couldn’t refrain from exclaiming: ‘Aren’t you ashamed?!’ But prosecutor Loktionov, who at every possible occasion recalls the Soviet Union with warm nostalgia, certainly had no shame.
After the prosecutor had read out the evidence for the prosecution, which failed to prove anything, the hearing ended. The next is scheduled for Friday, 31 March, at which the defence will give its evidence. Probably, on the same day the defence will present the witnesses for the defence. They say that one Nobel Peace Prize winner will be among them. Possibly, for that reason he will not be allowed to speak.
This simulation of justice is taking place before everyone’s eyes and causes neither embarrassment to those involved in this farce, nor any particular indignation among the public. Little by little, everyone is becoming accustomed to the arbitrary actions of the courts, the ever-present accompaniment of any dictatorship. Many people simply do not pay attention to it anymore. Just as they pay no attention to the statue of Themis in the lobby on the ground floor where it stands blindfolded and holding a set of scales. The statue, wholly decorative in nature, is completely out of place within the walls of Moscow City Court. As is the marble ‘bench of reconciliation’ to the left of Themis. For some reason no one is not allowed to sit on this bench. One lawyer tried, and was immediately thrown off by vigilant bailiffs.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove