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U.S. calls for the immediate release of a vocal Kremlin critic detained in Moscow

Russian activist Vladimir Kara-Murza attends a conference of Russia's leading rights group Memorial in Moscow in October.
Alexander Nemenov
/
AFP via Getty Images
Russian activist Vladimir Kara-Murza attends a conference of Russia's leading rights group Memorial in Moscow in October.

Western officials are calling for Russian authorities to release a prominent opposition activist and critic of the invasion of Ukraine after reports of his arrest emerged Monday. The activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza, has since been sentenced to 15 days in jail on the charge of disobeying a police order.

The police detained Kara-Murza on the street near his Moscow home, according to the Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government agency focused on security and human rights. His lawyer told the independent news outlet Sota that he had been detained, and activist Ilya Yashin also confirmed news of Kara-Murza's arrest on Twitter.

Kara-Murza's lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said his client was arrested on charges of disobeying police orders and faced up to 15 days in jail or a small fine, The Guardian reports.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted Monday that the U.S. is "troubled" by Kara-Murza's detention.

"We are monitoring this situation closely and urge his immediate release," he added.

His lawyer promises to appeal the sentence

The Khamovniki district court in Moscow sentenced Kara-Murza to 15 days in jail at a hearing on Tuesday, according to Prokhorov.

Prokhorov wrote on Facebook that police say Kara-Murza "behaved erratically after seeing police officers, changed the trajectory of his movement, quickened his pace and responded to the demand to stop by trying to flee," according to an English translation.

He rejects this claim, saying instead that police were waiting for Kara-Murza at the entrance to his home and detained him as soon as he got out of his car.

Prokhorov vowed to appeal the sentence.

Both the Free Russia Foundation and Helsinki Commission allege that authorities denied Kara-Murza access to legal counsel — in violation of his rights — while he was being held in a Moscow police station ahead of his hearing. They are among those calling for his immediate release.

"Vladimir is not a criminal but a true patriot motivated by the potential of a democratic future for Russia and freedom for its people. He must be allowed access to his lawyer and should be released immediately," reads a joint statement by Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, co-chairman Rep. Steve Cohen and ranking members Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Joe Wilson.

The longtime Kremlin critic has been speaking out against censorship and the war

Kara-Murza is a vocal critic of the Kremlin who held leadership roles in Open Russia and the Free Russia Foundation, organizations that the Russian government has deemed "undesirable."

Kara-Murza also hosted a weekly program on the since-shuttered Echo of Moscow radio station and writes columns for The Washington Post.

Notably, he fell seriously ill in Moscow in 2015 and 2017 in incidents of suspected poisoning that he blames on the Russian authorities.

"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 2017.

Kara-Murza was also close friends with Boris Nemtsov — a former Russian deputy prime minister-turned-vocal Kremlin critic who was shot dead in Moscow in 2015 — and the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, at whose funeral he served as a pallbearer.

Kara-Murza has spoken out against Russia's war in Ukraine in recent weeks. He testified at a March 29 Helsinki Commission hearing and, in his opening remarks, described what he called two parallel wars launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin the previous month.

"One, which continues to this day, was his unprovoked and unlawful aggression against Ukraine," he said. "The other, which was concluded effectively and swiftly, was his blitzkrieg against what remained of independent media in Russia."

As Kara-Murza noted, Russians who speak out against the war — and even use that term to describe it — can face up to 15 years in prison, under a restrictive new law that has prompted an exodus of independent journalists and foreign media from the country for fear of prosecution.

Kara-Murza has continued doing interviews with Western outlets and spoke to CNN just hours before his arrest. In that conversation, he referred to the Russian government as "a regime of murderers" and explained why he was staying in Moscow despite the risks.

"Look, I'm a Russian politician — I have to be in Russia, it's my home country," he said. "I think the biggest gift ... those of us who are in opposition to Putin's regime could give to the Kremlin would be just to give up and run. And that's all they want from us."


This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.