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65-year-old Russian historian of Stalin’s terror has prison sentence extended to 15 years

Dmitriev prison sentence
Russian historian and political prisoner Yury Dmitriev. Photo:
65-year-old Russian historian of Stalin’s terror has prison sentence extended to 15 years
Article by: Yuliia Rudenko
Edited by: Alya Shandra

On 27 December, judge Yekaterina Khomyakova Petrozavodsk City Court (Karelia, Russia) extended Yury Dmitriev‘s 13-year prison sentence by two years. The 65-year-old prominent Russian historian of Stalin’s terror and human rights defender now has to serve 15 years in a maximum-security penal colony. He researched political repressions of the USSR and headed a regional department of the Memorial human rights center. The historian is accused of “child pornography.” He is regarded as a political prisoner by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and other leading human rights organizations.

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“Mr. Dmitriev’s prosecution was triggered by his human rights work and his research on political repression in the Soviet period.”

(30 September 2020, from a Statement by the EU Spokesperson)

13-year prison sentence for Dmitriev extended by two years

Arrested on 13 December 2016, Russian historian Dmitriev was accused of “preparing pornography involving a minor,” meaning his adopted daughter Natalia.

Two years later, the historian was acquitted. But soon, an appellate court turned down the ruling, transmitting it for retrial.

In 2018, the historian was detained again. This time, for alleged “acts of a sexual nature” against Natalia.

Two years later, the court acquitted the historian for the second time on both accusations. However, the Karelia Supreme Court turned down these acquittals on 29 September 2020, sentencing Mr. Dmitriev to 13 years in a harsh regime prison colony.

Dmitriev prison sentence
Yury Dmitriev, Russian historian and political prisoner, in court, 27 December 2021. Photo: Victoria Ivleva / Facebook

The historian was arrested on the basis of an anonymous report about pictures of naked Natalia on his computer. When adopted, the girl was three years old and underweight.

Mr. Dmitriev claimed he was recommended to track her health state, among other things, by taking photos of her without clothes and recording her height and weight. Moreover, the historian wanted to have material evidence that Natalia is treated well, not subjected to violence, in the case of claims the girl is mistreated. Notably, Mr. Dmitriev took many photos of Natalia when she was little but when she reached 10 and her condition normalized, he stopped.

Despite the fact the man never spread these photos, he was accused of “preparing pornography involving a minor” and “depraved actions with respect to a child under the age of 11.”

Dr. Lev Shcheglov, the President of the National Institute of Sexology, and two other independent experts rejected the official, state-ordered expert assessment of these photos of Natalia. According to them, taking pictures like that for medical reasons was the usual practice in the country. When presenting his stance in the court, Dr. Shcheglov said that he took such photos of his grandchildren for the same reasons and asked if that meant he should be held liable, too.

Why are charges against Russian historian Dmitriev political?

Yury Dmitriev in court
Yury Dmitriev, Russian historian and political prisoner, after hearing his sentence on 27 December 2021. Photo: Valery Potashov /
  1. Mr. Dmitriev has dedicated his life to shedding light on the execution of victims of Stalin’s regime in Karelia, where dozens of thousands of people were killed and buried in mass graves. Dmitriev worked to uncover the remains of the victims of terror and identified them by name. He conducted excavations at the Sandarmokh Clearing, Northern Russia, of the mass graves of thousands of Russian, Ukrainian, and other victims of Stalin’s Terror in 1937-38.The historian argued that some of the victims of the Terror at the Sandarmokh Clearing were the USSR’s fighters killed by the Finnish. As the historian started to present his findings, he was arrested for the first time. Soon after his detention, Russian state-controlled media launched a campaign to discredit Mr. Dmitriev and the Memorial Human Rights Center.
  2. In 2015, the historian openly talked about Russia’s armed aggression in the east of Ukraine.
  3. The case involves criminal charges blackening Mr. Dmritriev’s personal brand to make the society and international community turn away from the prisoner.
  4. The “pornography” charges entail closed trial, first, preventing human rights activists from monitoring the violations of the defendant’s rights, and second, “silencing” the case. But the Streisand effect set in and the imprisonment of Russian historian Dmitriev was highly publicized in Russia and beyond. For example, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union, condemned Dmitriev’s imprisonment.

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Edited by: Alya Shandra
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