Human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev will be on trial again starting Monday. The historian is accused of producing child pornography.
Badge with the inscription: Freedom for Yuri Dmitriyev Photo: Igor Podgorny/imago
Yuri Dmitriyev has been in pre-trial detention in the Karelian city of Petrozavodsk for three years. The Russian historian and head of the Memorial Bureau, dedicated to coming to terms with Stalin-era terror in northern Russia, has been held in custody since late 2016 on suspicion of producing child pornography. The trial, which is politically motivated, continues today (Monday) in Petrozavodsk.
Dmitriyev is a meticulous scientist. He has been tracing Stalin-era victims for more than 30 years. In the process, he discovered Sandarmoch, a wooded area in the Far North, where between 19 some 10,000 people were shot and buried.
Among them were many foreigners, Poles, Finns and Ukrainians. In 1997, Dmitriev inaugurated a memorial there.
In April 2018, the historian was already acquitted once by the Petrozavodsk City Court. This is a highly unusual case for Russia, as a suspect must expect to be convicted in 99 percent of cases. The state simply cannot make a mistake, so the assumption goes.
Illegal possession of weapons
So the unusual acquittal was also overturned by the Republic’s highest court in June and a new trial opened. The pornography charge was based on photographs Dmitriyev had taken of the foster daughter over the course of several years. The photos were between seven and four years old. You should document the health condition of the girl before the child welfare office.
In 99 percent of cases, the suspect faces conviction
It was sickly and weak when it came to him. Dmitriev himself grew up as a child in care. The court also cited unlawful possession of weapons as another charge. A sawed-off but inoperable rifle was found in the apartment, which Dmitriyev had taken from juveniles.
In the first trial, a group of experts from the "Center for Sociocultural Analysis" prepared the expert report. However, the group did not include child psychologists or sexologists. Experts appointed by the defense called the research unserious. A second expert opinion commissioned by the court concluded that the photos were not child pornography.
The "Center" had already attracted attention before by providing favorable expert opinions in politically motivated proceedings. In the case of the punk band Pussy Riot, for example, or in a trial against Jehovah’s Witnesses, where it was a matter of hurting the feelings of believers.
Trial as a commissioned work
In the second trial, the Supreme Court is now returning to the statements of the "Center" and expanding the charge to include "sexual abuse without the use of force of a child under the age of 16."
If convicted, Dmitriev faces at least 20 years in camps. He reportedly fears imprisonment less than the treatment of other prisoners. For them, alleged sex offenders are the scum among fellow detainees.
That the trial was a commission has been suspected since the first trial. For example, the photos of the daughter were merely stored on Dmitryev’s computer. At the time, he had been summoned by the authorities for flimsy reasons. Meanwhile, an intruder downloaded the photos, which were then used against him.
After the first acquittal, contact with the foster daughter was cut off. Neither Dmitriev, friends nor family members could speak to her. She is said to have been placed with her grandmother.
The judiciary rolled up the process once again. Interviews with the foster daughter are now supposed to prove abnormalities and abuse, although two years of investigations had already led to an acquittal.
What is striking is that the judge who acquitted Dmitriev has since not been promoted to a post at the highest court in the Republic of Karelia, as expected. The prosecutor also left the service after the acquittal and moved to the private sector. Both were removed from service for further case handling.
Coming to terms with the Stalin era has never been a particular concern of official Moscow. In the meantime, the Kremlin has made no secret of its rejection of the NGO Memorial, which is listed as a "foreign agent" and is subject to harsh fines throughout the country.
Stalin as a point of reference for state self-image has gained in importance under the aegis of President Vladimir Putin. Commemorating victims of other nations as well does not fit the discourse of Russian distinctiveness.
The Russian Military Historical Society also recently conducted excavations at Sandarmoch. "Mortal remains of prisoners of Finnish concentration camps" who died between 19, it claims to have discovered. The evidence is unlikely to stand up to scientific criteria.