13 years imprisonment: “The triumph of evil”

Sever Real report by Anna Yarovaya and Yelena Vladykina

The High Court of Karelia has annulled the verdict passed earlier on Yury DMITRIEV by the Petrozavodsk City Court and in place of three years and six months has sentenced him to 13 years imprisonment.

“This is the triumph of evil,” wrote journalist Victoria Ivleva. “13 years in a strict-regime colony is a death sentence.”

“The High Court of Karelia couldn’t care less what the Petrozavodsk City Court decided, it seems to me,” commented journalist Natalya Dyomina. “That’s surprising. The city court summoned experts while the High Court somehow managed in 2-3 days to examine every aspect of this case, to reach its own understanding and increase the sentence from 3 ½ to 13 years. I don’t understand what happened during those three days,” said Dyomina, who travelled to Petrozavodsk to hear the verdict. “What new facts did they uncover?”

“This means there is no justice to be had in Russia,” said Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko party deputy in St Petersburg’s legislative assembly. “The special services and the descendants of those executioners whose crimes Dmitriev investigated and preserved for future generations are all-powerful. The court of the first instance had every reason to close the case and release Yury Dmitriev. Instead, it issued a compromise decision under which Dmitriev would have been freed in mid-November. Evidently, forces that could push the High Court in a worse direction then joined in. All I can suggest is that the special services will not rest until they have taken revenge on Dmitriev, no matter what it requires.”

“This will mean the open murder of Yury DMITRIEV before the eyes of public opinion, in Russia and the world, and the killing of historical truth,” commented Emilia Slabunova, a deputy in Karelia’s legislative assembly. “This is a bullet aimed at the very heart of truth about our history, the truth about the State’s crimes against its citizens, about the arrests and executions that took place in our country. I am in a state of shock.

“What does our government do? Having failed to make any serious economic achievements or advances in social welfare, especially now when our citizens are in a worse plight because of the pandemic and its effects on the economy, as poverty increases and our citizens become increasingly pessimistic about what the authorities are doing, the government lacks any positive means of influencing the situation. So it falls back on the chief method of a repressive, police State: a desire to intimidate everyone so that they fall quiet, and put up with things, neither showing their indignation nor protesting.”

“This is revenge for his active position,” said Andrei Pivovarov, executive director of Open Russia. “Apparently, the local security chiefs have been given free reign by Moscow and are clamping down. The reason for this sentence is Dmitriev’s activities. … The regime has no confidence in its own ratings and puts on these shows of strength.”

29 September 2020

The morning of the appeal hearings at the High Court began with the arrest of Anatoly Razumov, Dmitriev’s friend and colleague, outside the court building. He was giving an interview to a journalist and held up a small poster with the words, “We shall not permit a repetition of Sandarmokh”, for the journalist to photograph. A policeman considered this to be a picket and arrested Razumov.

“Anatoly Razumov was answering the journalist’s questions. At one point he displayed the poster he had carried on protests in support of Dmitriev,” Natalya Dyomina told us. “A policeman approached and said Razumov was violating the rules for holding a [one-person] picket, although he was doing nothing of the kind. Razumov was put in a police vehicle and drive away.”

The journalist who was conducting the interview said that Razumov indeed held up a photograph of Dmitriev during their conversation, but he could not call it a placard, far less a picket. Photographs taken by observers confirm this version of events.

At the police station, a charge sheet was drawn up against Anatoly Razumov, but he refused to sign it.

Without a defence

The day before the hearing, a group of Dmitriev supporters sent an Open Letter to the High Court of Karelia, signed by over 250 scientists, journalists, literary figures and actors, requesting that the case of Yury DMITRIEV, head of Memorial in Karelia, be heard in another part of the Russian Federation.

The request was based on the circumstances under which the hearings were being held in Petrozavodsk. The appeals were originally due to be heard at the High Court on 16 September, but the court delayed the hearing because Victor Anufriev, Dmitriev’s defence attorney was unwell. Anufriev requested a postponement of two weeks, since he was obliged to self-isolate and could not travel to Karelia from Moscow. The hearing was delayed, but only for five days. On 22 September, Dmitriev was represented by a local court-appointed attorney who had three working days in which to familiarise himself with the numerous case files.

“Showing unparalleled generosity, the High Court of Karelia decided to appoint an attorney who would work free of charge on 22 September,” Dmitriev told the Sever Real correspondent. “That poor, unpaid attorney! How was he supposed to study the 20 files of the criminal case? The court rejected all my objections and, proud of its resolve, closed the hearing. The show goes on, in short.”On 22 September, in the absence of Victor Anufriev the court decided to subject the photos from Dmitriev’s first case to a further assessment, although he had twice been acquitted of the charge of child pornography by the judges of the Petrozavodsk City Court – by Judge Marina Nosova on 5 April 2018 and by Judge Alexander Merkov on 22 July 2020.

“The appeals were examined by Judge Alla Rats, who has twice prolonged Dmitriev’s detention in custody,” says the Open Letter to the High Court of Karelia, “and everything that happens at this trial gives us reason to doubt the objectivity of the judging and, furthermore, to suspect that the judge has been put under pressure.”

“I can’t understand 40% of what the judge says”

Yury DMITRIEV participated in the hearing online, via a video-link from the detention centre. Several times he has been refused the right to be present in court, which complicates matters since he finds it difficult to hear the judge and other participants on the video-link:

“One of my other humble pleas was that my hearing be tested, by order of the court. I cannot always hear or understand what the judge says in the courtroom: I miss about 40%. That’s not good for the defence. The judge politely enquired, Did I have medical documents confirming my deafness. No, I said. In that case, I’m turning down your petition.

I’ve been on at the detention centre staff about this problem. They brought extra speakers but couldn’t plug them in. I keep complaining. The judge gets angry and threatens to bar me from the court. Each time I reminded them: I’m on my own, dealing with these legal issues, virtually without a defence. That irritates the judge, to put it mildly. But what can I do? Things are never easy.”

That day the High Court of Karelia rejected the Open Letter. Its press service explained, “Only people taking part in a criminal case have the right to issue statements declaring their lack of confidence in the court, the rejection of individual judges and the panel of judges, the transfer of the case to another court.”

Public reactions

On 22 July 2020, Judge Alexander Merkov acquitted Dmitriev of all charges except “acts of a sexual character” towards his foster daughter. He sentenced the historian to three years and six months imprisonment. Invoking Article 64 of the RF Criminal Code, Merkov found there were exceptional circumstances that permitted a lighter punishment.

Public reaction to the new verdict varied. Some saw this short sentence as the equivalent of a pardon. Most of Dmitriev’s supporters considered it an injustice and demanded that he be acquitted on all counts.

Director Oleg Lipovetsky noted that the verdict would not influence the attitude of honest people to Dmitriev:

“These days our judicial system does not declare people not guilty. … When someone is charged under an Article for which he could be sentenced to 15 years and is given 3 ½ we feel relief. The name of that person is unsullied for honest people.”

Journalist and rights activist Zoya Svetova said that the exceptional circumstance that allowed the court to condemn Dmitriev to a sentence well below the recommended minimum was that Dmitriev is innocent.

The prosecution did not agree with the sentence and appealed for it to be raised from 3 ½ to 13 years in a strict-regime penal colony.

Photos again shown on TV

A few days before the High Court announced the new verdict, photographs supposed to be of Dmitriev’s naked foster daughter once again found their way to the nationwide Rossiya-24 TV channel.

“This anonymous leaking of photos of an unknown naked child on the eve of the verdict was carried out by the law-enforcement agencies to shape public opinion and exert pressure on the court,” says defence attorney Arkady Ostrovsky, “because apart from them no one else has access to the materials of the criminal case. The person behind this leak is to be found among the staff of the Investigative Committee and the FSB. By leaking these photos they have themselves committed the crime of which Dmitriev was initially accused and later acquitted.

“The objectivity of the judge who twice extended Dmitriev’s term of custody is also greatly in doubt. It was the norm earlier that judges who extended the custody of an individual were banned from examining the case itself.”