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Russia sentences opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison

Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza is escorted to a hearing in a court in Moscow, Feb. 8. He has been imprisoned in Moscow since April 2022 for speaking out against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
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Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza is escorted to a hearing in a court in Moscow, Feb. 8. He has been imprisoned in Moscow since April 2022 for speaking out against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A Moscow court sentenced on Monday Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison over his criticism of the war in Ukraine — the harshest prison term delivered yet to a government opponent since the Kremlin launched its invasion in February 2022.

With the ruling, the judges awarded prosecutors the full 25-year prison term they had requested. Kara-Murza pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict," Kara-Murzasaid at the closing session of his trial last Monday. "But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rearview mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today."

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Kara-Murza, 41, was among a small group of high-profile opposition figures who remained in Russia, determined to be a voice for those against the war. Most are now in prison, facing lengthy sentences.

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesperson, said in a statement that the U.S. condemns the sentencing. "Mr. Kara-Murza is yet another target of the Russian government's escalating campaign of repression.  We renew our call for Mr. Kara-Murza's release, as well as the release of the more than 400 political prisoners in Russia," Patel said.

Kara-Murza was initially detained in April last year on charges of spreading "false information" about the Russian army. In making the initial arrest, authorities pointed to a speechKara-Murza had given to the Arizona state legislature in which he detailed alleged atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Russian authorities later added charges of treason and participating in a banned pro-democracy group.

Kara-Murza's health has been a constant source of concern throughout the trial — with the dissident losing 37 pounds and suffering from numbness in his extremities.

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While in pretrial detention, a doctor diagnosed the condition as polyneuropathy — a malfunctioning of peripheral nerves throughout the body. It's a condition that can be caused by many different triggers, including diseases, drugs or toxins.

Kara-Murza had suffered from two separate poisoning attacks that nearly took his life in 2015 and 2017.

"Given the sophisticated type of poison, I think it's people who have been or are connected with the Russian special services," he told NPR in a 2017 interview.

Indeed, Kara-Murza has been no stranger to the risks of opposition politics in Russia. In 2015, his friend and mentor, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, was gunned down by assassins in central Moscow.

Kara-Murza was a key figure in lobbying Congress to pass the U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in 2016 — legislation that initially targeted those involved in the death of a whistle-blowing Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in prison.

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Kara-Murza formed a close friendship with Arizona Sen. John McCain in pushing for the legislation — later serving as a pallbearer at McCain's funeral in 2018.

In a sign of the political nature of Kara-Murza's trial, one of the trio of judges had been sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.

Yet, even from pretrial detention, Kara-Murza maintained a public presence — authoring opinion pieces for the Washington Post in which he expressed confidence that Russia would ultimately emerge from the latest repressive chapter in its history.

"The night, as you know," he wrote, "is darkest just before the light."

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