Kremlin pursues more cases against critics of Ukraine war

Russian authorities have opened a criminal case against prominent opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. for allegedly spreading “false information” about the country’s armed forces, his lawyer said Friday.

Russian media reported that similar charges were being drawn up against outspoken tech executive Ilya Krasilshchik, the former publisher of Russia’s top independent news site, Meduza. The moves against the two Kremlin critics are part of a widening crackdown against individuals speaking out against Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia adopted a law criminalizing spreading false information about its military shortly after its troops rolled into Ukraine in late February. The offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Human rights advocates so far have counted 32 cases targeting critics of the invasion.

Kara-Murza is a journalist and a former associate of late Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in 2015, and oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed for years in Russia. Kara-Murza himself was hospitalized with poisoning symptoms twice, in 2015 and 2017.

Lawyer Vadim Prokhorov told reporters that the false information case against Kara-Murza cited a March 15 speech to the Arizona House of Representatives as the basis for the latest charges.

In March and early April, the activist made a series of public addresses in which he denounced Russia’s actions in Ukraine. In an April 11 interview with American television network CNN, he described the Kremlin as “a regime of murderers.”

Kara-Murza was detained hours after the interview and jailed for 15 days for disobeying a police officer. Prokhorov said his client had been due to appear in court for an appeal hearing Friday but instead was taken in for questioning at the Russian Investigative Committee headquarters.

Prokhorov said Kara-Murza has maintained his innocence.

The spokespeople for a Moscow court said investigators have petitioned to place Kara-Murza in pre-trial detention for an initial period of two months. A hearing on the petition was scheduled for Friday afternoon, Prokhorov said on Facebook.

Krasilshchik, the tech executive who left Russia in early March, told Meduza that he had learnt about the case against him from news reports, which by Friday evening remained unconfirmed. Russian media have linked the charges to an Instagram post, featuring what Krasilshchik said was the photo of charred human remains in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

“You can’t recover after seeing the images from Bucha,” the photo caption read. “You feel that the army of this country of ours, it’s capable of anything … and so is the country. That we’re just an order away from mass executions.”

Also Friday, veteran Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said in an online statement that he was “temporarily” leaving the country.

“The situation around me and my rights organizations has been frightening for a long time,” Ponomaryov announced on the website of the NGO “For Human Rights,” which he led from 2019 to 2021, when it shut down due to Russia’s controversial restrictions on entities deemed “foreign agents.”

“There have been constant provocations, spam attacks, detentions, and – I will be frank – ambiguous information from various sources regarding (authorities’) plans to do with me,” he added.

Ponomaryov, a former State Duma lawmaker who had helped found Russia’s oldest human rights organization in the 1980s, has been a vocal opponent of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and initiated multiple public petitions against it.

In his statement Friday, he claimed to be “allowing himself to take a vacation” to “look after my health …, but also think through the difficult situation in which we all find ourselves, and plan further (campaigning) activities, which we cannot stop by any means.”

“I doubt my time away will be long,” he added.


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