Russia must free human rights advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza before it’s too late

Learn more about David J. Kramer.
David J. Kramer
David J. Kramer
Executive Director, George W. Bush Institute and Vice President
George W. Bush Presidential Center
Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza sits on a bench inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Basmanny court in Moscow on October 10, 2022. (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Vladimir Kara-Murza has been living under incredibly harsh and awful conditions in a Russian prison for the past two years because he called for freedom, human rights, and the ability to speak out against the atrocities of Vladimir Putin’s regime. 

Like Aleksei Navalny, who died in an Arctic penal colony in February as a result of trumped up charges, Vladimir Kara-Murza is a true Russian patriot who just wants a better future for his children and his countrymen and women. Yet he has paid for this in many painful ways. 

Vladimir lost a very close friend, Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed yards from the Kremlin in 2015. Soon after, Vladimir endured the first of two horrible and debilitating poisonings. He recovered from those, albeit with lingering effects, and then returned to Russia and started to speak out again, bravely, about Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine.  

All of us have an obligation to speak out, to call for Vladimir’s freedom, to press for a better future, so that Vladimir can one day freely speak out about what’s happening in his country – inside the borders of his country – without having the fear of imprisonment hanging over him.  

The same is true for other prisoners of conscience held by Russia and other authoritarian regimes around the world. The George W. Bush Institute actively highlights their cases in its Struggle for Freedom series, which has previously featured Vladimir twice – including when a Moscow court sentenced him to 25 years in a strict penal colony a year ago. His mother called the “unprecedented” move “Kafkaesque.” 

Let’s not wait until it’s too late, as it turned out to be for Navalny, who is nevertheless speaking out from beyond the grave with a posthumous book on his life and work as a pro-democracy advocate, which is due to be published in the United States this fall.  

A group of Vladimir’s allies gathered in Washington this week to spotlight Vladimir’s plight, honor his legacy, and urge the U.S. State Department to designate Vladimir as “wrongfully detained” under the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act. We also urge other governments to take interest in his case and the conditions of other political prisoners held by the Kremlin.  

I’m in jail for my political views,” Vladimir wrote in The Washington Post, in his final missive following his conviction. “For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.” 

All of Vladimir’s oppressors should be held accountable under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to sanction human rights violators from other countries, and similar legislation in other countries. 

I hope that within the next days and weeks, months at the latest, we can mark Vladimir’s release, so that he can be a free man once again and serve his patriotic cause.