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Washington Post contributor arrested in Moscow after criticizing Putin

Russian activist Vladimir Kara-Murza arrives for a Senate committee hearing in Washington in 2017. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian authorities on Monday arrested Vladimir Kara-Murza — a prominent Kremlin critic who has written columns for The Washington Post protesting Russia’s war in Ukraine and violations of human rights.

Kara-Murza was arrested outside his home in Moscow, the same day CNN published an interview in which he called Vladimir Putin’s government “a regime of murderers” and predicted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would lead to the Russian president’s downfall.

The 40-year-old Putin critic survived two poisonings, in 2015 and 2017, that he said were orchestrated by the Kremlin in retaliation for his advocacy of Western sanctions against the Russian government.

Russia has denied that it was the source of the poisonings, which left Kara-Murza in a coma both times. But investigations by independent organizations found that he had been followed by members of the same federal agency that allegedly poisoned jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and at least three other opposition figures.

His wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, demanded his immediate release in a tweet late Monday. “Twice have the Russian authorities tried to kill my husband for advocating for sanctions against thieves and murderers,” she wrote, “and now they want to throw him in prison for calling their bloody war a WAR.”

Kara-Murza is a longtime colleague of the late Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated outside the Kremlin in 2015. Kara-Murza is an author, a documentary director and former candidate for the Russian parliament, and he served as deputy leader of a political organization, the People’s Freedom Party.

He played a key role in getting the United States, European Union, Canada and Britain to adopt sanctions laws in 2012, known as the Magnitsky Act, that target individuals in Russia and elsewhere who are complicit in human rights violations.

Kara-Murza has written dozens of columns critical of the Russian government for The Post’s Global Opinions section over the past few years — including one decrying the Kremlin’s recent crackdown on independent media and dissent. The Russian parliament last month enacted a law imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading what it considers “fake” news about the military, including calling the invasion of Ukraine an “invasion.”

“One after another, media outlets that dared to report honestly on Putin’s assault on Ukraine had their signals cut off and their websites blocked,” Kara-Murza wrote on March 7.

The Post’s publisher, Fred Ryan, released a statement Tuesday praising Kara-Murza’s courage. “Following poisonings and other grave threats, this outrageous detention is the latest move in Vladimir Putin’s ongoing effort to silence Kara-Murza and hide the truth about the atrocities Putin is committing in the Russian people’s name,” Ryan said. “No one should be deceived by the Russian government’s trumped-up charges and smears, and Kara-Murza should be released immediately.”

Kara-Murza was one of few dissidents to remain in Russia after the war and media crackdown. “The biggest gift … we could give to the Kremlin would be for those of us who are in opposition to Putin’s regime we could give up and run,” he said Monday in an interview on CNN Plus, the network’s new streaming service. “That’s all they want from us."

The Russian human rights group OVD-Info said Kara-Murza was arrested the same day and was being held on a 15-day “administrative jail sentence.”

He was reportedly accused of “behaving inappropriately in the sight of police officers, changing his direction of movement, quickening his pace and trying to hide when asked to stop.” OVD-Info cited Kara-Murza’s defense team, who said he had merely been exiting a car near his house.

Kara-Murza is the third writer associated with The Post to face arrest and persecution at the hands of a foreign government in recent years.

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian writer and dissident, also was a contributor to Global Opinions when he was murdered in October 2018 by Saudi agents in that nation’s consulate in Istanbul. The CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, a conclusion later confirmed by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights after a six-month investigation.

Jason Rezaian, The Post’s correspondent in Tehran from 2012 to 2016, spent 544 days in prison in Iran without trial before his release in early 2016. Rezaian is now a writer for Global Opinions.

CNN, which broadcast the interview with Kara-Murza, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated with new information and comments.

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