US lawmakers urge release of Russia critic Kara-Murza on the anniversary of his imprisonment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of Congress on Tuesday called for the immediate release of Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. as lawmakers marked the second anniversary of his imprisonment, part of the Kremlin’s sweeping crackdown on critics of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The bottom line is that Vladimir Kara-Murza will not be forgotten,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at an event on Capitol Hill. “We are going to work to set him free and to set Russia free.”

Kara-Murza, a journalist and opposition activist, was jailed in April 2022 and convicted of treason last year for denouncing the war in Ukraine. He is serving 25 years, the stiffest sentence handed down to a Kremlin critic in modern Russia. He is among a growing number of dissidents held in increasingly severe conditions under President Vladimir Putin’s political crackdown.

Cardin was joined by a bipartisan group from both the House and Senate, seeking to increase the pressure on both Russian authorities and the Biden administration in hopes of forcing Kara-Murza’s release.

Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the committee, renewed his call Tuesday for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Kara-Murza as a “wrongfully detained person,” an appointment that would help elevate his case and provide resources to his family in America as they fight for his release.

The charges against the dual Russian-British citizen stem from a March 2022 speech to the Arizona House of Representatives in which he was critical of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Kara-Murza, who twice survived poisonings that he blamed on Russian authorities, has rejected the charges against him as punishment for standing up to Putin and likened the proceedings to the show trials under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Arrests of Americans in Russia have also become increasingly common as relations between Moscow and Washington sink to Cold War lows. Washington has accused Moscow of targeting its citizens and using them as political bargaining chips, but Russian officials insist they all broke the law.

In response, senators on Tuesday introduced a resolution condemning the Russian government for its arrests of American citizens and calling for their immediate release. Last month marked the first anniversary of the arrest of Evan Gershkovich, a 32-year-old reporter for The Wall Street Journal who is awaiting trial in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison on espionage charges. Other U.S. citizens detained include Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan; Travis Leake, a musician who had been living in Russia for years and was arrested last year on drug-related charges; and Marc Fogel, a teacher in Moscow who was sentenced to 14 years in prison, also on drug charges. Dual nationals Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana are also being held in Russia.

“Russia’s arrests of journalists, many of which are U.S. citizens, are disturbing reminders of the lengths Vladimir Putin will go to in order to suppress peoples’ most basic freedoms,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “I urge the State Department to utilize every tool at our disposal to bring our fellow Americans home, including Virginian Vladimir Kara-Murza.”

Vladimir Kara-Murza’s wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, who lives in the U.S. with their three children, joined lawmakers at the event in pleading for her husband’s release.

“I want to thank each and every one of you here for joining with me in my fight, not just for Vladimir’s freedom, but truly for his life,” she told the crowd.

Evgenia Kara-Murza has said that her husband has spent months in solitary confinement, a punishment that has become common for Kremlin critics and is widely viewed as designed to put additional pressure on them.

Most recently, Kara-Murza had been held in a penal colony in the Omsk region, though his supporters said in late January that he was no longer there.


Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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