A political prosecution

In February SERGEI KRIVENKO travelled to Karelia, as a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, to monitor the case of YURY DMITRIEV. In early June he talked to ZOYA SVETOVA.


Yury Dmitriev is a very well-known person. He is an independent historian, the creator of Books of Remembrance, and instrumental in the finding and commemoration of Sandarmokh [one of the largest burial sites of victims of the Stalinist repressions in Northwest Russia – Open Russia]. He located Krasny Bor, another burial site near Petrozavodsk, and many places in Karelia where people were shot.

This is a man who has worked to preserve the historical memory of the Great Terror. And the situation is very nuanced: on the one hand, his activities are supported by the Karelian government. In 1997, when Sandarmokh was found, the region’s government supported all the independent initiatives and speedily made the area accessible. During the past twenty years a tradition has grown up: on 5 August each year, the day the Great Terror began, a Day of Remembrance is marked in Sandarmokh. This tradition has carried on uninterrupted for the past 20 years, and Yury Dmitriev is one of the organisers and a leading participant in the events. On the occasion of his 60th birthday last year, the regional government presented him with a diploma and official recognition.

dmitriev, ukrainian newspaper
“In Memory of the Slain”  the Ukrainian magazine Kultura

After 2014, however, because of well-known events [in Ukraine – ed.], Yury Dmitriev’s activity in organising international days of remembrance in Sandarmokh began to irritate certain forces in Karelia and the law enforcement agencies. He actively invited delegations from Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States. Sandarmokh is a place of international remembrance, where people of many nationalities, many foreigners, and the flower of the Ukrainian intelligentsia were shot. It was probably the trend in Russia towards self-isolation that led some influential people to become uncomfortable with delegations from other countries coming and taking part in these events alongside the Karelian authorities.

This is most likely the only reason that led to an instruction being given, in slang terms, to “shut Yury Dmitriev up.” Why do I say that? This criminal prosecution against him does not stand up to criticism. And a closer look at the indictment, and at the way things are going, shows that the charge is fantastical and groundless.

He is accused of making pornographic photographs of a naked girl – his adopted daughter – that are taken from a family album. This is a contemptible trick that kills two birds with one stone: it discredits both Memorial and Dmitriev. And it’s entirely unfounded. I’ve known Dmitriev personally for 20 years, and went on an expedition to Solovki with him and his adopted daughter. Their relationship is not unusual in any way. Social services observed this family for the eight years the girl spent living with Dmitriev, and there were no instances of assault or any other kind of incident. The girl gave good testimony during about Dmitriev during the investigation, and Dmitriev himself pleaded not guilty. When there is no basis for the charges, you can see how they tried to build the case against him: at first, they tried to find evidence that he had been distributing pornography.

No evidence was found that these photographs had ever been shared either online or via file transfer; they were kept on Dmitriev’s home computer. His only aim in photographing his adopted daughter was to monitor her health: when he took her from the children’s home she was suffering from dystrophy. None of the photographs used to incriminate him featured unusual objects or strangers. They were purely to monitor her health. This fits with Dmitriev’s character. He unearths burial sites, ranges across Karelia, and he is “fixated” on the idea of recording things, he records everything: the bones he finds at burial sites, all the remains. And so, he easily took to the idea that he should record this girl’s health. The 140 photographs found on his computer are mostly taken face-on, in profile, from the side and from the back.

The girl stands before the camera, and he takes photos of her from various angles and in various years of her life. Last year, after she had recovered her strength, there was no longer any need for recording and he stopped taking these photos. As far as I remember, the last photo dates from 2015.

From my point of view, this is a completely contrived prosecution, with a political motive.

There is his interview and the testimony of his friends and colleagues to show that during the last year before his arrest he felt that he was the object of particular attention — he was the object of surveillance, and there were weird phone calls. And this all got worse in the last few months, when the discussion about executioners and victims began. Especially after they declared Memorial a foreign agent NGO. Most likely, all these circumstances untied the hands of certain groups of people who thought: now that it’s permitted to persecute and discredit Memorial on a federal level, we’ll go and do it on a local level as well.

Members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights came to Karelia, we went to the child protection services, to the prosecutor’s office. We’ll follow the course of the trial through our lawyer. We’ll follow this matter as it develops, and give our own evaluations.

Right now, one of the basic features of the case that further shows how the matter was “made to order” is that the investigator never gave permission for an independent review to be conducted. The Centre which conducted the review is currently facing, an enormous number of questions. It was this same Centre which provided the evaluation in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case, in the case of Pussy Riot. In fact, they have carried out reviews in many political trials.

To strengthen the prosecution, the investigators brought forward a further two charges: “depraved activity”, which consisted of “Dmitriev being aroused during the photographing of a child” and, as an appendage, “illegal possession of weapons”.

At his home, he kept an old popgun, which is not a weapon, with a drilled-through barrel. Dmitriev either found it somewhere, or took it from the boys who used to play with it. Upon his arrest, the popgun was handed over to the inquiry, which determined that it was not a firearm. Nevertheless, the investigators left this charge in place. I think that it will fall away in court if the judge shows objectivity, but the charge on the other counts will remain. Basically, it is games of this kind being played by the investigation that demonstrate how the case is “made to order”.

A board member of the International Memorial Society, and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Krivenko was interviewed by Zoya Svetova before the trial began.

Translation first published
in Rights in Russia,  No 23 (256) 12 June 2017

First published by Оpen Russia on 1 June 2017

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