As It Happens6:36As Russia locks away an anti-war politician, his supporters say the regime is scared
Imprisoning a man who spoke out against atrocities in Ukraine is a sign the Russian government is afraid, says a dissident living in the U.S.
A Russian court on Friday found opposition politician Ilya Yashin guilty of spreading “fake information” and sentenced him to 8½ years behind bars.
“With that hysterical sentence, the authorities want to scare us all, but it effectively shows their weakness,” Yashin said in a statement through his lawyers after the judge passed the sentence. “Only the weak want to shut everyone’s mouth and eradicate any dissent.”
That’s a sentiment that Evgenia Kara-Murza shares wholeheartedly. She is a Russian citizen now living in the U.S. while her husband — opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza — is locked away in a Russian prison awaiting trial for several charges, including high treason.
“The regime behaves in such a manner that shows that they are definitely scared of anyone who protests against them, of any dissent within society,” Kara-Murza told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann from Washington, D.C.
“If the support in the Russian population were indeed universal, they wouldn’t need to [resort] to these draconian measures.”
Jailed for ‘telling the truth’
Yashin was tried over a YouTube video released in April in which he discussed evidence, uncovered by Western journalists, of Russian atrocities in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.
Russian forces, which invaded Ukraine in February, captured Bucha early in the war and occupied it for more than a month.
When Ukraine recaptured Bucha at the end of March, they found a city in shambles and hundreds of bodies — many of them civilians, some of them children.
A UN investigation found evidence of widespread extrajudicial killings and torture. Some bodies were found in makeshift detention camps with gunshot wounds and their hands bound.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called what happened in Bucha and other occupied cities “genocide.” Canada’s foreign affairs minister said it amounted to “war crimes.”
Russia, meanwhile, has consistently denied all allegations of war crimes in Ukraine, insisting any footage or photographs of bodies are “fake news.”
And so-called “fake news” is exactly what landed Yashin behind bars.
After the invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia passed new legislation establishing prison terms of up to 15 years for disseminating false information about the military.
But Kara-Murza says Yashin did no such thing.
“He was not lying. He was not definitely spreading any fake news. He was telling the truth to the Russian population,” she said. “But the truth is not very popular in [President Vladimir] Putin regime.”
Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have denounced Yashin’s conviction.
Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called it “a travesty of justice and an act of cowardice, directed by a Kremlin that feels threatened by vocal and visible critics like him.”
Yashin: ‘We won this trial’
In his final statement to the court earlier this week, Yashin appealed directly to Putin, describing him as “the person responsible for this slaughter” in Ukraine and asking him to “stop this madness.”
“Our army isn’t being greeted with flowers. They call us punishers and occupiers. The words ‘death’ and ‘destruction’ are now firmly associated with your name,” he said. “You have brought terrible misfortune to the Ukrainian people, who will probably never forgive us.”
After the sentence was passed down, he shared a final message with his supporters on the messaging platform Telegram, urging them to continue opposing the war in Ukraine.
“We also have no reason to be sad, because we won this trial, friends,” he wrote. “We spoke the truth about war crimes and called for an end to the bloodshed.”
Kara-Murza praised Yashin for speaking the truth and not backing down — much like her husband, who she called “a fighter … a warrior and a true Russian patriot.”
“I could not be prouder of my husband. I couldn’t have more admiration for him,” she said. “I am sure that he’s showing a great example to our kids to always face bullies with courage and to defend their values, their principles, no matter what, no matter the risks.”
As a journalist, activist and filmmaker, Vladimir Kara-Murza was known for speaking out against the regime. The last time Evgenia saw him was in April, before he was arrested on a charge of disobeying police.
Since then, he has remained in pre-trial detention as officials add more charges to his roster, including spreading false information about the military and high treason. The latter is related to speeches he made to U.S. politicians denouncing the invasion of Ukraine.
“He did not say one untrue word,” Kara-Murza said of her husband.
In the meantime, she continues to speak out against the regime and the war, and encourages other Russians to do the same.
“As a mother, as the wife of a political prisoner, as a Russian citizen, I am devastated by what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine … and so I believe it is my duty to do everything I can to bring forward the downfall of this regime,” she said.
“I believe it is my duty to continue Vladimir’s work, to continue the work of my soulmate, and I will do it for as long as it takes me.”