17 April 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Twenty-five years for a public statement criticizing the war and political repressions. This is a vivid demonstration of what is going on today in Russia. When it comes to political persecution, the country has gone back not to Brezhnev’s time, not Andropov’s or even Khrushchev’s, but has plunged headlong into the Stalinist era and its 25-year sentences for NKVD fantasies of counterrevolutionary activities.
In Russia today they hand out a sentence of 15 years for premeditated murder, six for rape, and eight for robbery. Vladimir Kara-Murza got 25 years for criticizing the government. The Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor’s Office, and then the court accused Kara-Murza of slandering the Russian army, which is committing monstrous crimes in Ukraine, but not one of his accusers got around to citing the slightest proof that what he said was not the truth. He was accused of collaborating with Free Russia Foundation, an “undesirable organization,” but the list of “undesirables” was drawn up by those who hate freedom, the law, and democracy and who are prepared to destroy Russia for the sake of one man’s whim and the larcenous maintenance of his inner circle.
Kara-Murza was charged with state treason because he spoke publicly, openly, without hiding behind circumlocutions, in other countries about the problems of contemporary Russia. Those countries suddenly became “unfriendly” to the Kremlin, therefore the Russian justice system today views any interaction with them as a betrayal of the state. The temporary authoritarian regime identifies itself with the state, with the country, with the people, but this is not even a delusion but rather speculation and a substitution of concepts. When the dictatorship falls, we will all see what their demagoguery today is worth.
A closed court, an empty courtroom, and a troika of judges no one elected
The trial against Kara-Murza sends us back to the style of Stalinist justice not only in its harsh sentence for normal, legal actions but also for its execution of retribution. A closed court, an empty courtroom, and a troika of judges no one elected, an illiterate Soviet prosecutor skilled at ideological rhetoric. It was a trial that did not even attempt to establish the truth, as is done in rule-of-law states. No, here the court had an entirely different objective: to demonstrate to Russian society the unlimited scope of judicial impunity, to intimidate possible followers, and to instill fear in people of the manifestation of any form of civic conduct.
Undoubtedly, such a harsh sentence has one other motivation, too: revenge, punishment for resistance. They couldn’t break Kara-Murza. They couldn’t shut him up, couldn’t kill him, couldn’t intimidate him or force him out of Russia. He wouldn’t grab the emigration life ring, like a drowning man would a straw. As have so very many cowardly Russian oppositionists. His choice was simple and dignified. It was the choice of honour, courage, and rightness.
Kara-Murza’s judges must have wanted very badly to hear from the defendant if not a word of remorse then at least regret about something. But they did not hear that from him. In his final statement at the trial, Vladimir said: “Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it… I put my name to every word that I’ve spoken and that I have been charged with in this accusation. I blame myself for only one thing — that in the years of my political activity I was unable to convince enough of my fellow countrymen and politicians in democratic countries of the kind of danger for Russia and the world borne by the present regime in the Kremlin. Today this is obvious to everyone, only at a terrible cost — the cost of war.”
Will those involved in today’s sentence against Kara-Murza pay?
Yes, sometimes one has to pay a high price for political carelessness and unforgivable mistakes, but most often those who pay are not those who made the mistakes. Those who try to correct them do.
Will those who are involved in today’s sentence against Kara-Murza ever pay for their confidence in their impunity? Investigator for Special Cases of the Russian Investigative Committee Justice Major Andrei Zadachin, Prosecutor Boris Loktionov, Judge Sergei Podoprigorov, and Moscow City Court judges Vitaly Bilitsky and Ekaterina Dorokhina? I don’t think we’ll forget their names. Nor will we forget those who initiated and passed the draconian laws in the illegitimately elected State Duma. A separate hat-tip to the pseudo-oppositionists Dmitry Gudkov and Ilya Ponomarev, who in 2012 voted in the State Duma to pass a new version of the law on state treason. It was under this law that Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced today to the maximum term: 18 years.
One day all this will be remembered and reckoned with, but today all we can do is what we should – and hope for what Vladimir Kara-Murza said in his final statement at the trial: “I know the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate. When black will be called black and white white; when it will be recognized at the official level that two times two is, after all, four; when war will be called war and a usurper a usurper; and when those who incited and unleashed this war will be deemed criminals, not those who tried to stop it.”
Translated by Marian Schwartz