YURY DMITRIEV has been arrested less than two weeks after a court ordered his retrial on gravely flawed charges, reports Halya Coynash. He was stopped by police in Karelia after leaving Petrozavodsk to visit the grave of a friend who died just before his first arrest. The renowned historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society was officially detained for going outside Petrozavodsk in breach of the signed undertaking to remain in the city he gave when released from custody in January this year. In fact, the manner in which NTV, one of Russia’s worst propaganda media, appears to have had a photographer at the scene and swiftly reported that he had been stopped while trying to flee the country, arouses the suspicion that this may all have been part of an operation to get Dmitriev imprisoned again.
Both Dmitriev’s daughter Katerina Klodt and his lawyer Viktor Anufriev have rejected the claims made by NTV. Klodt told Novaya Gazeta that her father had been stopped in Olonets by police on the instruction of investigator Maxim Zavatsky and taken to a police holding unit. The friend with him rang Klodt at 20.30, at the same time as the NTV report claiming he was trying to get to Poland. This is nonsense, Anufriev says, and points out that even if he had wanted to, Dmitriev could not have been leaving the country as he has no passport. NTV also falsely claimed that Dmitriev had taken his dog to a dog’s home before setting off on this alleged ‘flight’. Klodt says that the dog is at home, though probably being kept indoors, as she’s on heat.
The reports in media loyal to the Kremlin make the point of Dmitriev’s prosecution very clear. All mention the charges against him, without noting that these were effectively demolished by leading specialists, and condemned as politically motivated both within Russia and abroad.
Dmitriev was arrested on 13 December 2016 and spent the next 13 months in custody, charged with ‘preparing pornography involving a minor’ (Article 242.2 of Russia’s criminal code) and ‘depraved actions with respect to a child under the age of 11’ (Article 135). Both these apparently serious charges pertained solely to a folder filed on his computer, and never ‘circulated’, which contained 114 photos of his adopted daughter Natasha. The little girl had been painfully thin and in poor health at three years old, when he and his former wife took her from the children’s home, and the authorities had themselves advised him to monitor her development. Each of the photos, taken between 2008 and 2015 recorded her weight and height.
The ‘investigators’ came up with an ‘expert assessment’ made by a mathematician, a teacher and an art historian who obligingly perceived ‘pornography’ in nine of the photos.
This assessment was rejected by Dr Lev Shcheglov, the President of the National Institute of Sexology, as well as two other specialists who saw nothing pornographic in the photos and who confirmed that it was common practice in Russia to take photographs for such medical purposes.
With the ‘expert assessment’ so roundly dismissed by real specialists, even the prosecutor Yelena Askerova had to agree to a new assessment. Despite clear efforts to influence the second outcome, in December 2017, this second assessment effectively overturned the whole prosecution’s case. It agreed with Shcheglov and the other recognized specialists in the field, finding nothing pornographic in the photos.
Askerova then demanded yet another assessment of the photos, as well as tests in a psychiatric institute of Dmitriev himself. She also sought a further 3-month extension of his detention. It was then that the outcome of the ‘trial’ began to look a bit less predictable. Judge Nosova agreed to send Dmitriev to the Serbsky Institute for the said examinations, but only extended the detention for one month.
Dmitriev was released from custody on the eve of his 62nd birthday on 28 January 2018.
A month later, on 27 February 2018, Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev reported from the Petrozavodsk Court that the Serbsky Institute had also found nothing wrong with Dmitriev. It had directly stated that Dmitriev was not a paedophile, and that the photos of his adopted daughter had been taken for a different purpose. He had not done anything that was harmful for the little girl, the Serbsky Institute had confirmed.
Although the assessment of experts was so heavily weighted against the prosecution, Askerova still demanded a 9-year maximum security prison sentence.
It was therefore a huge relief when, on 5 April 2018, Petrozavodsk City Court, Judge Marina Nosova acquitted 62-year-old Dmitriev of the main indictment, but convicted him of a third much less serious charge.
That ruling was appealed by the defence, who demanded a full acquittal, and by the prosecutor. Rulings in political cases in Russia are generally understood as being decided at a higher level than the courtroom, with acquittals virtually unheard of.
It is possible that the initial acquittal was issued to deflect public attention to the trial, and never intended as more than an interim measures. There were certainly no grounds at all for the decision by the Karelia’s High Court on 14 June to revoke all parts of the original verdict and to send the proceedings back for ‘re-trial’ under a different judge.
This latest development only exacerbates fears that there is to be no let up on persecution of a historian whose tireless work in uncovering the victims and the perpetrators of Stalin’s Terror is not to the liking of those in power in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.