Crimes of Thought
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Along with other activism to promote democracy and respect for the law in his native Russia, Sergei Davidis spoke in the defense of Alexei Navalny in court earlier this year. He told the i (inews.co.uk), a British news outlet, that he knew the main political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin would be found guilty of embezzling from his political organization and be sentenced to years in jail.
Fearing that his actions would spark a harsh reprisal, he left two days after appearing in court, fleeing to Lithuania with his wife and child. Davidis didn’t want to end up in prison like Navalny and other dissidents who speak out against Putin.
He had cause to worry.
Recently, another famous Russian dissident was jailed, reported Agence France-Presse. Dubbed a “foreign agent” and detained for allegedly spreading false information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Kara-Murza described the awful experience of imprisonment due to thought crimes in a recent op-ed. Noting that Navalny and hundreds of other dissidents are sitting in Russian prisons, he asked for help.
“Please remember them. Please speak out on their behalf. Please advocate their release – which will come, I have no doubt,” he wrote, the text of which he gave to his lawyer during a prison visit to pass on to the Washington Post. “Because the worst nightmare for a political prisoner is to be forgotten.”
The contrast between their suffering and their symbolism is perhaps the most potent way of evoking the plight of the brave Kara-Murza, Navalny and others. The National Interest portrayed Kara-Murza as a brave figure who evoked the anti-Soviet traditions of the Russian dissidence movement of the Cold War.
The conditions of Russian prisons and the treatment of dissidents should bring idealists back to reality, however.
Ukrainian prisoners of war have accused Russian officials of permitting torture, including beatings, electrocutions and other horrors, wrote Global News. Russian officials denied medical treatment to Hlib Stryzhko, a Ukrainian soldier who suffered from a broken pelvis and jaw while defending the important Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The soldier was later part of a prisoner swap between Russian and Ukrainian forces, the BBC reported.
American veteran Trevor Reed, who was kept as a prisoner in a Russian prison for three years before he was released in April, recently lamented the fate of American basketball star Brittney Griner, added CNN. Reed recalled rotten food, no medicine and a “nightmare” that began upon waking up. Russian authorities have accused Griner of smuggling cannabis oil into the country. Her detention has become a symbol of US and Russian tensions over the Ukraine war. But for her, there is a spotlight – unlike the hundreds of Russians who will languish in prison after show trials.
But then, when thought itself is illegal, there is no justice.