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On Monday, a closed court in Moscow rejected the appeal of Russian opposition leader, democracy advocate, and longtime HRF community member Vladimir Kara-Murza. Arrested in April 2022, Kara-Murza was handed a 25-year prison sentence by a kangaroo court the following year on fabricated charges of “high treason,” “spreading deliberately false information” about Russia’s armed forces and participating in the actions of an “undesirable” organization.

Kara-Murza’s real offense has been denouncing Vladimir Putin’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on Russian democrats. Such bold moves have long made Kara-Murza a target of Putin’s dictatorship; he’s survived two near-fatal poisoning attempts by Russian officials since 2015.

In true heroic defiance, he gave these last words in Moscow’s First Court of Appeal of General Jurisdiction on July 31:

Almost as powerful as those words was this courtroom display of courage.

Throughout this process — first in the Moscow City Court, now here in the Court of Appeal — a very strange feeling has not left me. Judicial procedures, by their very nature, must be linked in some way to the law. But everything that happens to me has nothing to do with the law, except perhaps in the sense of the complete opposite. The law — both Russian and international — prohibits the waging of aggressive war. But for more than 16 months, the man who calls himself the president of my country has been waging a brutal, unprovoked, aggressive war against a neighboring country: kills its citizens, bombs its cities, seizes its territories.

The law — both Russian and international — prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects. But in the 16 months of [Vladimir] Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, tens of thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and thousand hospitals, schools, and houses. The law — both Russian and international — prohibits the propaganda of war. But war propaganda is all I hear from morning till night on the TV that plays in my prison cell.

Today, in our country, not those who wage this criminal war, but those who oppose it, are judged. Journalists who tell the truth. Artists who put up anti-war stickers. Priests who remind of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Teachers who call a spade a spade. Parents whose children draw anti-war pictures. Deputies who allow themselves to doubt the appropriateness of children’s competitions when children are being killed in a neighboring country.

Or, as in my case, politicians who openly speak out against this war and against this regime. Twenty-five years for five public performances. As the head of my convoy in the Moscow City Court joked: “It looks like he did a good job.”

All this has already happened in our country. In 1968, participants in a demonstration on Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia were sentenced to camps and exile, and in 1980 Academician Sakharov was exiled to the closed city of Gorky for speaking out against the war in Afghanistan.

But very little time passed — not by historical standards, but by human standards — and the president of Russia in Prague condemned that occupation and laid flowers at the memorial to its victims, and the highest legislative body of our country recognized the war in Afghanistan as deserving of moral and political condemnation.

The same will happen with the current war in Ukraine, and much sooner than it may seem to those who unleashed it. Because in addition to legal laws, there are laws of history, and no one has yet been able to cancel them.

And then the real criminals will be judged, including those whose arrest warrants have already been issued by the International Criminal Court. As you know, war crimes have no statute of limitations.

To those who organized my and other show trials of opponents of the war; by trying to present opponents of the authorities as “traitors to the Motherland”; for those who are so nostalgic for the Soviet system, I would advise you to remember how it ended. All systems based on lies and violence end the same way.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

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