Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Gets Vaclav Havel Award for Defending Rights

Jailed Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza has won the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor “outstanding” civil society action in the defense of human rights.

The prize was presented by PACE President Tiny Kox to Kara-Murza’s wife, Yevgenia Kara-Muza at a special ceremony on Monday, the opening day of PACE’s autumn plenary session in Strasbourg.

The prize is named after the late Czech dissident and playwright who became president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic after the fall of communism. The award comes after the Russian rights group Memorial was named last week as a co-winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

“It takes incredible courage in today’s Russia to stand against the power in place. Today, Mr. Kara-Murza is showing this courage, from his prison cell,” Kox said.

The 41-year-old politician was detained in April and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of disobeying police. He was later charged with spreading false information about the Russian Army while speaking to lawmakers in the U.S. state of Arizona.

Kara-Murza has rejected the charge, calling it politically motivated.

Last week, a high treason charge was added to the charges he faces over his alleged cooperation with organizations in a NATO member for many years. If convicted on the charge, the staunch opponent of the Kremlin faces up to 20 years in prison.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has blasted the Russian accusations as “baseless,” saying it is “painfully obvious” that the Kremlin sees Kara-Murza as “a direct and imminent threat.”

“With the start of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, he launched a war on truth in our country,” Kara-Murza said in a statement read by his wife.

“In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, speaking the truth is considered a crime against the state.”

The son of a prominent journalist, also named Vladimir, who died in 2019, the younger Kara-Murza was a television correspondent in Washington for several years and later worked on political projects launched by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a prominent Putin foe who now lives in Europe after spending more than a decade in prison.

A close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza is best known for falling deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow — in 2015 and 2017– with symptoms consistent with poisoning.

Tissue samples smuggled out of Russia by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated his case as one of “intentional poisoning.”

U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.

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