11 October 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
War unleashes violence. Military personnel are allowed to kill with impunity, law enforcement officials are allowed to hand out punishments without regard to the law. Perhaps it is the dehumanization that results from war that most attracts those who have not found a place for themselves in civilian life.
At the sharp end of the confrontation
Today, the Kremlin authorities are waging a war not only against Ukraine, but also, assiduously, against Russian civil society. Vladimir Kara-Murza, a leading lobbyist for the Magnitsky Act in the U.S., an implacable critic of Putin and a supporter of tough sanctions against the Russian leadership, has been at the sharp end of this latter confrontation.
It has to be said that it is no coincidence he has turned out to be a consistent and open opponent of the dictatorship. They tried to poison him twice, but he survived. He was threatened with prison if he returned to Russia from the States, where his family lives, but he came, ignoring the threats. This was like a duel, in which the Individual is armed only with words and the System has all the instruments of repression and torture. No wonder Kara-Murza was arrested on his latest visit to Russia and now one charge after the other is being laid against him.
The charges are strictly Soviet in style: ‘V.V. Kara-Murza, having a hostile attitude towards representatives of the highest state bodies of the Russian Federation and its citizens, who have views on the conduct of domestic and foreign state policy that are alien to him (V.V. Kara-Murza)’ … also facilitated ‘activities for interference in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation, discrediting the country’s leadership and their domestic policy and creating the conditions for destabilizing the social and political situation.’
AS GOOD AS ‘ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’
Kara-Murza is being prosecuted under three articles of the Russian Criminal Code. The first charge is under Article 284.1 (participation in the activities of a foreign NGO designated ‘undesirable’ in Russia, which carries a potential penalty of up to four years in prison) for taking part in a round table in defence of political prisoners held at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow in October 2021, organized by the Free Russia Foundation.
The second charge is under Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Public dissemination of information known to be false about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation,’ punishable by up to 10 years in prison). This for a speech he made to the House of Representatives of Arizona (USA) in March this year in which he told the congressmen about the bombing of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine by Russian aircraft. The indictment alleges that he criminally ‘used statements containing a negative evaluation of, and expressing a hostile attitude toward, a group of persons representing State power.’
It might have seemed that would be the sum of the charges, but no, on 5 October a new charge was laid against him under Article 275 (‘High Treason,’ punishable by up to 20 years in prison). Kara-Murza was accused of speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO in Lisbon as well as at a meeting of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Oslo and of participating in hearings held by the US Helsinki Commission in Washington. The theme of his ‘criminal’ statements is the same everywhere: the protection of human rights. The Investigative Committee considers all his speeches to be activities of the Free Russia Foundation.
Essentially, there is nothing new here. It is all the same ‘cooperation’ with the hated American foundation. However, now it is interpreted as providing ‘consulting or other assistance … to foreign organizations or their representatives in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation.’ Treason! As good as: ‘enemy of the people’!
A HARD-TO-EXPLAIN ODDITY
This article of the Criminal Code has always been present in the legislation, first Soviet, then Russian. But it has not always been the same. For example, in the most recent Soviet Criminal Code, treason was defined as: switching sides to the enemy, espionage, disclosure of state or military secrets to a foreign state, fleeing abroad or refusing to return to the USSR from abroad, assistance to a foreign state in conducting hostile activity against the USSR, and conspiracy to seize power.
Acting as a consultant for foreign NGOs should never be considered high treason. This was invented by the State Duma in 2012 when it started working in ‘crazy printer’ mode. The voting on the bill at that time was impressive – all deputies voted for it. That rarely happens. Not only all those present, but all members of the State Duma, every single one of them! Among them, it should be noted, were Dmitry Gudkov and Ilya Ponomarev, now considered members of the opposition.
Already back then at protest rallies Gudkov and Ponomarev spoke with trembling voices about their commitment to democracy, while in the parliament obedient to the Kremlin they obediently voted for government bills. Which, strangely enough, did not hinder them from running for membership in the Coordinating Council of the opposition. Now they are secure in exile, cursing Putin, but they remain silent about their part in the creation of repressive Russian legislation. Meanwhile, Vladimir Kara-Murza is being prosecuted under the law that was supported by these ‘members of the opposition.’
There is one strange thing about the Kara-Murza case that is hard to explain. Investigations into cases of alleged treason (formerly it was called ‘treason against the fatherland’) have always been carried out by state security agencies. Today as well, the law of criminal procedure places cases that come under Article 275 within the jurisdiction of the FSB. The Investigative Committee is not entitled to investigate crimes under this article. However, Kara-Murza’s case remains under the control of the Investigative Committee. Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, says that this is the first such instance – he knows of no others. It is not yet clear what this apparently unimportant violation of the law means.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove