Another look at those nine photographs?

At the High Court hearing on 22 September in Petrozavodsk, Judge Alla Rats requested another expert assessment of the photographs on Yury DMITRIEV’s home computer that formed the pretext for his arrest on 13 December 2016.

From Nikita Girin’s detailed article this July in Novaya gazeta we have learned which among the 140 plus photographs taken of his foster daughter between 2008 and 2015 were selected to support a charge of child pornography against the historian, and why.

Since January 2017, it has been possible for the general public in Russia and abroad to get some idea of what the bulk of the photos display after they were, quite improperly, leaked to a national TV channel and shown as “evidence” of the moral degradation of both Dmitriev and the Memorial Society. In that programme Russian viewers were told that the photos were vile and pornographic (they would not be regarded as such by most outside observers).

In an account of each occasion since 2016 when the issue of the photos has arisen, Anna Nepershina has listed previous assessments of the photographs and the court’s verdict in April 2018 and again in July 2020: on both occasions DMITRIEV was found not guilty of producing child pornography.


(See Timeline of First Trial for more detail.)


After Dmitriev’s arrest in December 2016 the investigators requested a local art expert Sergei Sergeyev to assess the photos found on Dmitriev’s home computer. “… I have no doubt”, Sergeyev declared, “that this is pure pornography”.

After talking to his new client Victor Anufriev gave an interview on 29 December 2016 to 7×7: horizontal Russia, a news website in Northwest Russia, explaining why Dmitriev had taken pictures of his daughter over a period of several years and stated, “a photo of a naked child is not pornography”.


Once the trial began Judge Marina Nosova requested the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis to provide its assessment of the photographs, taken by Dmitriev between 2008-2015. The Centre, it turned out, was not officially licensed to perform such a role (although it had contributed its views to the 2012 Pussy Riot trial).

Nine out of more than two hundred photos taken by Dmitriev of his foster daughter Natasha were “pornographic”, declared the Centre. Dmitriev’s defence attorney Victor Anufriev cross-examined the director of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis and showed that neither she nor the other specialists were officially qualified to issue an expert assessment at a court hearing.


At Anufriev’s request, the court requested another expert assessment of the photographs. This time an obscure organisation from St Petersburg calling itself the Federal Department of Independent Forensic Expertise was invited.

For lack of its own staff, the “Department” invited several specialists to carry out the assessment. Their conclusion was that the photos were NOT pornographic. Instead, they had been taken, as Dmitriev insisted, to “monitor the girl’s physical development. She had spent years in a children’s home before being fostered by Dmitriev and his wife and her growth was stunted.


Now the prosecution intervened.

It requested another assessment of Dmitriev’s mental state and sexual orientation and the task was assigned to the Serbsky Institute in Moscow. Despite a past that included the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes in Soviet times, the Institute is today considered Russia’s leading forensic research centre for psychiatry and drug-dependence.

Victor Anufriev raised no objections to this choice and after Yury DMITRIEV was examined as an in-patient in December 2017 to January 2018 the Serbsky Institute declared him of sound mind and normal sexual orientation.


On 5 April 2018 the Petrozavodsk City Court, Judge Marina Nosova presiding, acquitted Yury DMITRIEV of the charge of child pornography.

That, however, was not the end of the story. On 28 June Dmitriev was again detained and subsequently put on trial, facing the previous charges and a new, more serious charge of acts of a sexual character involving his under-age foster daughter (see Nikita Girin’s article for the details).

The court requested that his mental health be examined once again. After being examined as an in-patient at Psychiatric Hospital No 6 in St Petersburg, Dmitriev was declared of sound mind and not inclined to any sexual deviation.


On 22 July 2020, the Petrozavodsk City Court, Judge Alexander Merkov presiding, again did not find Yury DMITRIEV guilty of the charge of child pornography.

The results of all these assessments are to be found in the case files. Professional psychiatrists at major State institutions had given their views as to the mental health and sexual normality of Yury DMITRIEV. Others have considered the nature of the photographs he took of his foster daughter between 2008 and 2015 and decided they are not pornographic.


It is hard to understand why Judge Rats, leading the hearing at the High Court of Karelia, has requested yet another expert assessment of the photographs.

If after all the previous examinations a new assessment declares there to be something criminal in the nine selected photos this will be regarded, in Russia and abroad, as an opinion foisted on the experts by some other force.

John Crowfoot

(Based on 23 September Facebook article by Anna Nepershina and reports on this website since 2017)