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Prominent Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza charged with high treason, lawyer says

Putin's history with suspected poisonings (2017)
Vladimir Putin's history with suspected poisonings (2017) | 60 Minutes Archive 13:31

Prominent Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was jailed six months ago for denouncing Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, has been charged with high treason, his lawyer said Thursday. 

Kara-Murza, a dissident politician who's suffered two suspected poisoning attacks, was detained near his house in April and quickly sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying a police order. He was arrested just a few hours after CNN aired an interview with him in which he called Putin's government a "murderous regime" and suggested the war in Ukraine would lead to the Russian strongman leader's downfall.

Russian journalist and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza attends a conference of Russia's leading rights group Memorial in Moscow on October 27, 2021. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty

On Thursday, his lawyer Vadym Prokhorov told Russia's state-run TASS news agency that Kara-Murza was charged with high treason "after speaking out critically against the Russian authorities three times, at public events in Lisbon, Helsinki and Washington. These speeches did not pose any threat (to Russia), it was public, open criticism."

Prokhorov ridiculed his client's arrest in April, citing police statements claiming Kara-Murza had "behaved inadequately at the sight of police officers, changed the trajectory of his movement, accelerated his pace, and tried to hide when asked to stop."

Prokhorov rejected the claims, saying police officers "were already waiting in the yard of the house in a police bus brought there in advance and [Kara-Murza] was immediately detained after getting out of the car."

Kara-Murza has been a vocal opponent of the war in Ukraine and launched an anti-war committee along with other opposition figures.

"I have absolutely no doubt that the Putin regime will end over this war in Ukraine," he told CNN in April, adding that it "doesn't mean it's gonna happen tomorrow. The two main questions are time and price. And by price, I do not mean monetary — I mean the price of human blood and human lives, and it has already been horrendous, but the Putin regime will end over this and there will be a democratic Russia after Putin."

Vladimir Putin's history with suspected poisonings (2017) | 60 Minutes Archive 13:31

A long-time critic of Putin, Kara-Murza fell deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow — in 2015 and 2017 — with symptoms consistent with poisoning. The activist himself called the incidents deliberate attacks by the Kremlin in retaliation for his lobbying efforts to get the U.S. and Europe to impose sanctions against Russian officials.

He suffered kidney failure after the first incident and barely survived. Samples smuggled out of Russia by Kara-Murza's family were given to the FBI, which investigated the case as "intentional poisoning."

"Twice in the last seven years, Russian authorities have tried to kill [Kara-Murza] for seeking personal sanctions against thieves and murderers, and now they want to throw him in jail for calling their vile and bloody war a war. I demand his immediate release!" Kara-Murza's wife, Yevgeniya, said in an April tweet.

One of the dissident's close friends, prominent politician and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed in 2015 near the Kremlin.

Vladimir Kara-Murza recovering in the hospital after a suspected poisoning.

Despite the apparent poisonings and his arrest in the spring, Kara-Murza has surprised many supporters by continuing to return to Moscow, and continuing to speak out.

"Look, I am a Russian politician, I have to be in Russia, it is my home country," he told CNN. "The biggest gift we could give to the Kremlin is to give up and run."

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