Russian dissident Kara-Murza loses appeal against 25-year treason sentence

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By Mark Trevelyan

LONDON (Reuters) -Russia's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a 25-year jail sentence imposed last year on dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, rejecting an appeal in which he said he was being punished solely for exercising his right to speak out freely against President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow-born Kara-Murza, who has both Russian and British passports, has repeatedly condemned Russia's war in Ukraine, accused Putin of presiding over a murderous dictatorship and lobbied for Western sanctions against Moscow.

His quarter of a century jail term - handed down in April last year after what he described as a show trial like those under Josef Stalin in the 1930s - was the harshest of its kind since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Kara-Murza, now 42, was arrested two months after the war began, accused of spreading false information about the armed forces and declared a "foreign agent". His detention came hours after CNN broadcast an interview with him in which he said Russia was run by "a regime of murderers".

The father of three was later charged with treason over speeches he had made about the war, including one to the Arizona House of Representatives in March 2022 in which he said Putin was bombing Ukrainian homes, hospitals and schools.

Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians, but thousands have been killed in Ukraine.

State prosecutors accused Kara-Murza of spreading "knowingly false information" about the army's conduct in what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Kara-Murza suffers from a nerve disorder after surviving two attempts to poison him. His wife Evgenia has voiced fears for his life following the death of Alexei Navalny, Russia's best-known opposition figure, in an Arctic penal colony in February.


British Foreign Secretary David Cameron posted on social media that Kara-Murza had committed no crime and the rejection of his appeal was an outrage.

"He is a political prisoner, held by Russia in revenge for speaking out against the war, and should be released immediately," Cameron said.

Kara-Murza's defence team said outside the court that the decision came as no surprise. He is being held in a penal colony in the Siberian city of Omsk where lawyer Maria Eismont said he had not been allowed to see or speak to a single other inmate since he arrived there last September.

Kara-Murza argued in his appeal that he had committed no crime and was convicted solely for speaking out freely against Putin and the war.

"This whole case is based on the denial of the very concepts of law, justice, and legality," he said in a written submission to the court.

"But it is also based on a crude, cynical forgery — an attempt to equate criticism of the authorities with harm to the country; to present opposition activity as 'treason'. But there is nothing new in this, either; it is what every dictatorship does."

The text was published last month as an opinion piece in the Washington Post, for which Kara-Murza writes articles from prison. This month he was awarded a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

(Additional reporting by Muvija M in London; Editing by Nick Macfie)