Vladimir Kara-Murza: The family man who has spent two years in prison

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a father to three children: two daughters and a son. He bears the exact same name as his father, who was one of the country’s most prominent journalists and a pioneer of independent post-Soviet television. As a child growing up in Russia the younger Vladimir made up stories constantly and loved to imitate politicians, a creative, energetic character who had his family constantly roaring with laughter. When he was 12 he set up a political party to defend the rights of children. He moved to London as a teenager and, at the age of 15 in 1997, stayed up all night to follow the results of the UK general election. He was a pallbearer at the funeral of the late US senator John McCain. He’s a “cat person” in contrast to his wife, Evgenia, who’s a “dog person”. He has a sweet tooth, especially when it comes to ice cream. He loves to cook.

These are just some facts about a man that the campaigner Bill Browder calls “incredible”, “the type of person that our world needs the most”. But these are not what he is known for. Instead it’s his incarceration in a Russia prison, which yesterday reached the grim milestone of two years, that has made him headline news. It’s his poisoning by Putin not once but twice. It’s also, more positively, his unrelenting pursuit of democracy and human rights, which has seen him being awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. It’s his role in the 2012 passage of the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets and bans the visas of Russian human rights violators.

Two years ago he was sentenced to 25 years for charges linked to his criticism of the war in Ukraine. His sentence is the lengthiest at present of any political prisoner in Russia (side note yesterday was also the two-year anniversary of the detention of Sasha Skochilenko, who was arrested for distributing anti-war leaflets in a grocery store. She is serving a seven-year sentence for that simple act). Fears for Vladimir’s life are large. His health alone is in a terrible place.

Last night at an event organised by Browder in London, spokespeople from the UK government said they’d be taking a more active role in pursuing Vladimir’s release. We hope they are true to their word and their efforts bear fruit. As we wrote yesterday up to this point the UK government’s response has been “woefully inadequate”.

At the end of yesterday’s event his mother, Elena, took to the stage. She bookended her speech with five simple words:

“Please help save my son.”

Vladimir was not in Russia when they launched their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Just before returning there he had been in London, taking to the stage at Barbican and eating with friends at Cecconi’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Shoreditch. His life was good. He could have stayed and many begged him to do just that. But he felt compelled to return. In his words: “I’m a Russian politician. All Russians should stand up to Putin. But how can I ask others to do that if I’m too afraid to return to my own country? I must be there.”

Vladimir went back to Russia to fight for a greater cause because he felt duty-bound. We now have a duty to fight for him.

SLAPPS: A Threat to Our Freedom of Expression and Our Democracy

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Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are brought by powerful and wealthy entities against public watchdogs in an effort to compel them to withhold or remove critical coverage, even if it is accurate and in the public interest.

When SLAPPs successfully drive information out of the public domain, they can make it difficult to hold power to account. SLAPPs threaten not only our freedom of information, but our human rights, our rule of law, and our democracies. The use of this tactic to undermine criticism and evade scrutiny has proliferated globally but Ireland has been identified as a jurisdiction of concern in the EU.

How do SLAPPs work and, crucially, what can we do to stop them? At this full-day conference, attendees will hear from lawyers, journalists, academics, politicians, and campaigners, as well as from keynote speakers, UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor, and human rights campaigner Bill Browder. Full schedule to be announced in due course.

This event is organised by Index on Censorship with support from Justice for Journalists Foundation and in partnership with Schuler Democracy Forum in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute and Trinity School of Law. The conference will take place in a hybrid format, accessible both via an online livestream and in-person. To get updates on speakers and sessions, please subscribe to Index on Censorship’s newsletter.


When: Thursday 23 March 2023, 9:00 AM – 6:30 PM GMT

Where: Trinity Long Room Hub, Fellow Square, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland

Tickets: Book in-person and online livestream tickets here