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Canada blocks citizenship for Russian activist convicted for blog posts opposing war

OTTAWA — Federal officials are blocking a pro-democracy activist from Canadian citizenship because a Russian court convicted her for blog posts opposing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Maria Kartasheva is appealing the decision by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and says she fears being deported to a Russian prison.

Kartasheva left Russia in 2019 because of rising authoritarianism, and is now a tech worker in Ottawa who co-founded a grassroots activist group for democracy in Russia.

As first reported by CBC News, Kartasheva, 30, learned via her family that in late 2022 she was charged by Russian authorities with a wartime offence of disseminating “deliberately false information” about Russia forces. The charges related to two blog posts she wrote while living in Canada.

Kartasheva notified Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada about the charges and uploaded translated court documents last May. Days later the department gave her an invitation to her citizenship ceremony.

On June 7, 2023, she logged into the ceremony alongside her husband. In the pre-interview that takes place before someone is allowed into the ceremony room, they were asked if anyone had been criminally charged, as part of a list of standard questions.

When she explained what had happened, an official pulled her out of the ceremony, though her husband went ahead and was given his citizenship.

“I felt kind of heartbroken. But I was trying to also stay positive, because it was my husband’s ceremony still, and so I didn’t want to ruin the day for him,” she said.

Last month, the department sent her a letter, saying that her conviction in Russia aligns with a Criminal Code offence in Canada relating to false information.

“That was pretty scary, because that’s when I realized that there is actually a risk that I might get deported — that I might actually end up in a Russian jail,” she said. “People who end up there for political reasons often don’t survive it.”

Kartasheva has submitted an explanation in her case and is awaiting a response. She is asking them to reconsider their decision to block her from citizenship.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller’s office would not say whether he plans to intervene, with an official

“We wouldn’t have comment on specific cases as matters of privacy,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

Russian judge Elena Lenskaya, who is sanctioned by Canada, arrested Kartasheva in absentia, on the basis of March 2022 blog posts in Russian expressing horror at the Bucha massacre.

This past November, a Russian court convicted her in absentia.

The Basmanny District Court in Moscow, which Canada has also sanctioned, issued Kartasheva an eight-year imprisonment sentence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2024.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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