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‘Chilling’: Verdict outrages the world

The West has reacted in anger to Russia’s sentencing of Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is destined to spend 25 years in jail on charges that include treason.

Mr Kara-Murza, described as one of the “boldest and bravest” critics of the Putin regime, has been subjected to the harshest sentence of its kind since Russia invaded Ukraine.

His high-profile trial is the latest in a string of cases against opposition voices in Russia, in a crackdown that has intensified since Vladimir Putin sent troops over the Ukrainian border last year.

Mr Kara-Murza, 41, was found guilty of treason, spreading “false” information about the Russian army and being affiliated with an “undesirable organisation”.

He will be transported to a strict penal colony following the closed-door trial, overseen by Moscow-appointed officials.

Mr Kara-Murza on Monday appeared in a cage for defendants in handcuffs, wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt and grey blazer.

In his last words in court last week, the defendant said he stood by his political statements, including those that criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I subscribe to every word that I have said, that I am incriminated for today,” Mr Kara-Murza said in comments published by veteran journalist Alexei Venediktov.

“Not only do I not repent for any of it — I am proud of it,” he added.

Mr Kara-Murza was detained in April last year on charges of spreading what the authorities considered to be false information about the Russian army, over an address he’d given to members of the lower house of the Arizona legislature in the United States.

His trial has sent a shockwave through activist movements across the world, with authorities as high as the UN calling for his release.

“Kara-Murza was tried on charges that appear related to the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of opinion… no one should be deprived of their liberty for exercising their human rights, and I call on the Russian authorities to release him without delay,” UN human rights chief Volker Turk said in a statement.

Mr Kara-Murza, a British dual-national, also received support from the UK, with foreign minister James Cleverly calling for his “immediate release” and summoning the Russian Ambassador in London, Andrey Kelin, over the case.

Germany also condemned Russia’s harsh sentence against the dissenter.

“We condemn this judgment in the strongest possible terms,” a spokeswoman for the foreign office said. The sentencing showed “the shocking level repression now reached in Russia”.

In August 2022, Mr Kara-Murza was accused of being affiliated with an “undesirable organisation” for participating in a conference in support of political prisoners.

Then in October he was charged with treason over remarks critical of Moscow made at three public events abroad, his lawyer told the state-run TASS news agency.

The opposition activist suffers from a nerve condition called polyneuropathy which his lawyers say is due to two poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017.

The condition has worsened in prison, and he was too unwell to attend some of his hearings, his lawyers said.

Mr Kara-Murza says he was poisoned twice because of his political activities, but he continued to spend long periods of time in Russia.

The Western-educated journalist was a close associate of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead near the Kremlin in 2015, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch turned Putin critic.

A Russian citizen by birth, Mr Kara-Murza received British citizenship after moving to the United Kingdom with his mother when he was 15.

In October 2022, Mr Kara-Murza was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Almost all of Putin’s best-known political opponents have either fled the country or are in jail.

The leading Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, was arrested in January 2021 upon returning from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poison attack.

In December last year opposition politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for spreading “false” information about Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

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