Many activists, journalists and academics, among others, have fled Russia as the government's crackdown on dissent continues amid the war in Ukraine. Others have even been arrested.
Russian politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, was also detained earlier this week, and given a 15-day prison sentence.
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He was an associate of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — who was shot and killed in 2015 — and of oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Kara-Murza said he experienced two poisoning attempts. The first one wasn't confirmed, but his wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, said that in 2017, doctors verified he had been poisoned.
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She spoke with The World's host Marco Werman from northern Virginia about her husband's current detention.
Marco Werman: Can you share with us the latest, what you know about your husband's case?
Evgenia Kara-Murza: Well, I spoke to him this morning, and he asked everyone not to lose faith. He says, "We will prevail, even if the path to freedom is much longer, much more difficult and much bloodier than we would ever have imagined." He was sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying an order of a police officer, which is absolutely ridiculous, because Vladimir, as a peaceful opposition activist, knows very well how you should behave while being arrested. Then, he spent the night at the Khamovniki Police Department in Moscow. He was denied access to his lawyer. The lawyer could only join him the next morning before the court session actually started, and the court session was extremely short. Everything was done in half an hour to 45 minutes. In that time, all the requests by my husband and his lawyer to at least call in and question the police officers who had made the arrest were denied. All my husband's arguments in this case were denied, and he was sentenced to 15 days in jail.
So, you spoke to him when he was in detention. Did he describe his surroundings?
Well, he's, should I say, lucky. But he's at one of the better detention centers of Moscow. There are others that are much worse, where torture and humiliation and deprivation are common. In this particular detention center, they occur like everywhere else, but not on a regular basis. So, I guess, we could say that he is luckier than some. He's not the only one who has been arrested since the beginning of the war for speaking out against Putin's aggression in Ukraine. Over 15,000 Russians have been arrested since the beginning of the war. They went out in the streets to protest this war despite great personal risks because new restrictive measures and restrictive laws are being adopted every day. And under one of them, for example, you can get sentenced for up to 15 years in prison for just calling this war a "war," and for disseminating, as the Russian government calls it, "fake news," but actually objective, true information about Putin's army's atrocities in Ukraine. Criminal cases are being initiated every day against those who go out in the streets to oppose this war, despite everything.
Why do you think your husband has been arrested at this moment?
Well, it could have happened at any moment. This is not the first time he's been targeted. He already paid a high price for his advocating for the introduction of targeted sanctions against murderers and thieves in Putin's regime. He has been doing this work since 2010. And his close colleague and friend, who began this work with him, paid the ultimate price for that. He was murdered on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge in Moscow. Boris Nemtsov was just shot in the back — five bullets in the back. That was what he got for advocating for the introduction of targeted sanctions. As for Vladimir, he paid a high price, as well, because he was twice poisoned for this particular work of his. And he had to twice relearn to walk and hold a spoon in 2015 and 2017. So, compared to that, 15 days in jail seems sort of a milder persecution. However, we're not yet sure if that's it because it might well be that they will use this time, these 15 days, to come up with something else to charge him with. And, as it happened in other cases against opposition activists in Russia, for example, in Alexei Navalny's case, he wasn't even allowed to get out of prison, and the cases against him kept piling up. So, it's not unusual for Russia to pile up cases against opposition activists nowadays while they're already serving sentences.
So, this arrest of your husband, Vladimir Kara-Murza, came right after an interview that CNN published with him, in which he called Vladimir Putin's government a "regime of murderers." Do you believe the arrest is connected to that?
It could be. I mean, I told you of his charge, and the charge sounds absolutely absurd. But in calling this the regime of murderers, my husband just called a spade a spade. We have known for years what Putin's regime truly is. Putin didn't just become a dictator overnight. He has been persecuting. He has been imprisoning, poisoning and killing his own citizens for two decades.
I mean, your husband, as you said, he's been the target of multiple poisoning attempts. He speaks out vocally against Putin, and he's in Russia. In your mind, why was it important for him to be in Russia, despite the risk?
The fact is, Putin is not destroying just one country right now. He's destroying two. When he's finally in jail, somewhere when he is — and I believe this day will come, I have to believe that, otherwise, how can we go on — but when he's finally in jail and when all the murders in his regime are in jail, the country will be in ruins. Everything will be destroyed by him, by his actions. And the Russian people will have to rebuild everything from scratch. And I believe Vladimir, he believes he needs to be where the Russian people are fighting this regime. He has to be on the front lines because he believes that, as a Russian politician who wants to bring change to his country, he has to be with the country's people fighting the evil.
Your husband has come on our show several times and I put that same question to him. He says the same thing, he's a Russian politician, and for that reason, he should be in Russia. But I'm wondering, today, do you agree with his position?
I have deep respect and admiration for my husband. The things he believes in, his commitment, are exemplary, they are amazing. And I cannot not support him in his fight. I will always, always stand by his side and I will always do whatever it takes to make sure that he continues to fight and that he's — like after his two poisonings, I did everything I could to bring him back home safely, and I will do the same this time. But I know that he will not stop fighting. Even if I bring him back, he will continue his fight and he will probably go back and continue it there. He's an amazing person and a true Russian patriot. You know, he's the true Russian patriot because he believes that you cannot equate the country to its regime. Those are two different things. Regimes, governments can be different. Some, you can support. Others you will hate with all your might. But the country, it doesn't make the country better or worse. It's the same country. You love your country, you want the best for it and you fight for it. That's what my husband has been doing for all these years.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.