Kremlin critic Kara-Murza's health 'relatively stable' in prison hospital: Lawyer

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TALLINN, Estonia -- A lawyer for imprisoned Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza found his health was “relatively stable” after visiting him in a prison hospital where he had been held incommunicado for several days, the dissident's legal team said Wednesday.

Kara-Murza, a 42-year-old dual Russian-U.K. citizen, is serving a 25-year prison sentence on treason charges that he has rejected as politically motivated. The charges against him stemmed from public remarks that were harshly critical of the Kremlin. His arrest in April 2022, weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, came as authorities ratcheted up their crackdown on dissent to levels unseen since Soviet times.

His lawyers tried to visit him last Thursday in Penal Colony No. 6 in the Siberian city of Omsk, where he was serving time, but they were told that he had been transferred to a prison hospital for an unspecified “examination," according to his wife Evgenia and lawyer Vadim Prokhorov. For several days after that, they were denied access to the politician over “bogus excuses” from hospital staff since then, Prokhorov said in an online statement Tuesday.

On Wednesday, one of Kara-Murza's lawyers was finally able to visit him, Prokhorov said in a new statement. His health is currently relatively stable, the attorney said, adding that the exact reasons for the examination at the hospital are being clarified. Prokhorov didn't offer any other details.

Kara-Murza's wife and lawyers have repeatedly sounded the alarm about his health deteriorating in prison. In 2015 and 2017, Kara-Murza suffered two near-fatal poisonings and developed polyneuropathy, a condition that deadens the feeling in his limbs.

Prokhorov stressed in his statement Wednesday that polyneuropathy is a serious chronic disease that prevents Kara-Murza from serving time in a correctional facility.

British and U.S. officials on Wednesday reiterated calls for Kara-Murza's immediate release, and expressed concern that his lawyers were denied access to him.

“Vladimir is being held in deplorable conditions in prison for having the courage to tell the truth about the war in Ukraine," Britain's Foreign Secretary David Lammy said in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow also said in a statement on X that “speaking the truth and one’s conscience is a right guaranteed by the Russian constitution, and which sadly continues to be oppressed by the Kremlin’s ongoing and increasing crackdown on dissent."

"Kara-Murza is a hero, not a criminal,” the embassy said.

Asked by The Associated Press whether the Kremlin has any plans to release ailing political prisoners like Kara-Murza, akin to what President Vladimir Putin's ally Alexander Lukashenko recently did in neighboring Belarus, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there were no such plans "at this time."

Kara-Murza is serving the stiffest sentence handed to a Kremlin critic in modern Russia. He has denounced the prosecution against him as punishment for standing up to Putin and likened the proceedings to the show trials under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

His wife Evgenia said he continues to be held in solitary confinement, a practice common for imprisoned Kremlin critics and widely viewed as designed to put additional pressure on them.

Kara-Murza rose to prominence as a journalist and has written columns as a contributor for The Washington Post from his prison cell. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary earlier this year. He has been declared a political prisoner by Russia’s prominent human rights group Memorial, and officials in the West have repeatedly called for his release.

Moves to neutralize the opposition and stifle criticism intensified significantly after the start of the Ukraine war, including the passage of a law effectively criminalizing any public expression about the conflict that deviates from the Kremlin line.

The legislation, which outlaws “spreading false information” about the Russian army or “discrediting it," has been used against opposition politicians, human rights activists and ordinary Russians critical of the Kremlin, with many receiving long prison terms.

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