MPs urge UK to ‘spearhead’ efforts to free Briton from Russian prison

Vladimir Kara-Murza was poisoned twice in attempted assassinations before being jailed
Vladimir Kara-Murza was poisoned twice in attempted assassinations before being jailed - AP/Dmitry Serebryakov

Rishi Sunak and Lord Cameron have been accused of taking “a back seat” in efforts to free a British citizen whom MPs fear will be the next dissident to be killed in a Russian prison.

More than a dozen MPs, including seven former ministers, have written to the Foreign Secretary warning that it would be “shameful” if the UK fails to spearhead efforts to secure the release of Vladimir Kara-Murza.

The intervention comes after Mr Kara-Murza, who was poisoned twice in attempted assassinations before being jailed, used a court appearance in Russia last week to warn that a “death squad within the FSB”, the successor to the KGB, was seeking to “physically eliminate political opponents of the Putin regime”.

Following the death of Alexei Navalny, Mr Kara-Murza, who was born in Moscow and moved to the UK as a teenager when his mother married a Yorkshireman, is one of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners. The 42-year-old father of three is serving a 25-year sentence – the longest handed to an opposition figure since the Soviet era – for treason.

The Cambridge graduate who went to public school in Harrow, has infuriated the Kremlin with a campaign – together with Bill Browder – to introduce sanctions in the name of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died investigating state corruption.

Last July, when judges rejected Mr Kara-Muza’s appeal against his 25-year sentence, Mr Sunak tweeted: “This is desperate and unfounded... He should be released immediately. The United Kingdom stands with him and his family.”

‘Chances of survival are slim’

In a letter organised by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, and signed by ex-ministers including Sir John Whittingdale and Sir Robert Buckland, MPs said: “The recent terrible news about the killing of Alexei Navalny has increased our concern that a similar fate awaits Vladimir Kara-Murza. The chances of surviving his prison sentence are very slim. We are calling on you to do whatever is possible to have him released.”

David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said: “The Government must provide answers on what it is doing to secure Vladimir Kara-Murza’s release and bring him home before it is too late.”

Mr Browder, a long-term friend of Mr Kara-Murza, said he held meetings with foreign ministers at the Munich Security Conference last weekend to discuss the case.

“Everybody knew who Vladimir was, they supported the idea of a prisoner swap. They agreed to try and get a deal in which Vladimir could be freed. The only country that has a strict policy against that is the United Kingdom.”

The MPs expressed concern about remarks by Leo Docherty, the Europe minister, last week, which stated that the UK would not countenance a prisoner swap.

The letter – also signed by Dame Margaret Hodge, Sir Liam Fox and Bob Seely – stated: “We urge you to take the strongest action possible to free Mr Kara-Murza, a courageous voice [who] deserves the government’s support.”

Mr Docherty has said Britain has “called for his release. We will continue to do that at every opportunity”.

On Saturday night a Foreign Office spokesman said: “The politically motivated conviction of Vladimir Kara-Murza is deplorable. We reiterate the Prime Minister’s call on Russia to release Mr Kara-Murza immediately and unconditionally.

“We regularly raise his case with the Russian authorities and will continue to do so at every available opportunity. We have sanctioned 11 individuals in response to his sentencing and appeal as well as two individuals involved in his poisoning. Our staff are providing tailored support to Mr Kara-Murza’s family as they continue to highlight this gross injustice.”