“An outrageous decision”

The appeal hearings at the High Court of Karelia on 16, 22 and 29 September took place in the absence of Victor Anufriev who has been DMITRIEV’S defence attorney since 2016 (he is self-isolating because of Covid-19).

In a telephone interview, Anufriev told Zoya Svetova that he had been in constant touch with the attorney [Artyom Cherkasov] appointed to represent Dmitriev after the court refused his client’s lawful demand to postpone the proceedings until Anufriev was able to attend.

ZS – How do you explain the action of the High Court of Karelia in overturning the sentence of the Petrozavodsk City Court? That goes against our firm belief that courts in Russia always agree their verdicts with higher courts when dealing with widely publicised cases.

VA – I’ve no idea. It just shows that the myth in this case did not work as intended. My understanding is that the court of first instance did not agree its actions with the higher court. Its decision proves that the court acted independently and reached a decision in accordance with its own understanding.

ZS – Why did the High Court of Karelia take the prosecution view so firmly? Was it because of the new expert assessment of the photographs of Dmitriev’s foster daughter? The prosecutor’s office considers them pornographic, although the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev of that charge.

VA — It’s hard for me to say. I haven’t seen the ruling yet. As you yourself realise it’s ridiculous to talk of a new assessment. Three years have passed, there has been an investigation and judicial hearings and a great many experts and specialists have appeared in court. Yet in a matter of three days they pretend some expert assessment has taken place. It’s a sham. I don’t even want to refer to that assessment.

It has nothing to do with the law. I petitioned for the judges to recuse themselves because it was obvious to everyone, even non-lawyers, that there could be no lawful, properly grounded decision at the High Court of Karelia.

ZS – Why do you say “obvious”?

VA – I laid out my arguments in the declaration that I submitted to the High Court of Karelia.

The quashing of the acquittal in July 2018 was, in my view, wholly devoid of legal foundations. The verdict was quashed because of someone’s arbitrary decision. This was confirmed by the second acquittal in the case [22 July 2020 verdict]. And now this – it’s simply outrageous. Probably, you couldn’t find anything like it in the decisions made by Russian courts.

But in this case it has a positive aspect. Such a cynical attitude to the law and to Yury DMITRIEV as a person, cannot be sustained by a higher judicial body that is trying to obey the law.

The next level

ZS – What is the next level?

VA – The Third Cassation Court in Saint Petersburg. After which we could submit a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. We could make a formal complaint to the prosecutor’s office but in this case it has served, let us say, as the weapon of retaliation.

When we have studied all the documents, we shall draw up a cassation complaint and send it to St Petersburg. Dmitriev will be put on trial a third time for the charges from the first case.

ZS – When will the third trial begin in Petrozavodsk?

VA – That’s a tricky question. All the materials referring to the various charges have been combined in a single case. The evidence referring to the first case, therefore, is to be found in the materials of the second case. By law, the entire case should be forwarded to the Court of Cassation in St Petersburg. Together with the sentence passed yesterday and the annulled acquittals.

Probably, therefore, we shall first have to go to the Court of Cassation and attempt to change the ruling of the High Court of Karelia. If the case reaches the court of first instance, the Petrozavodsk City Court, then we shall have to go there.

ZS – Does the Court of Cassation have the right to over-rule all the decisions of the High Court of Karelia?

VA – Yes. The drawback is that the Court of Cassation could not formerly increase the punishment, it could only return the case for new examination. Then amendments were made to the Criminal-Procedural Code.

ZS – You mean that formerly the Court of Cassation could not worsen the situation of the accused and now it can?

VA – Yes.

Did you foresee this?

ZS – Did you imagine that things would take this course?

VA – When I met Yury Dmitriev in September as we were preparing for the appeals process, we drew up a statement demanding that the collegium of the court recuse itself from the case, because among the judges was one who had formerly extended Dmitriev’s term of custody. We knew how she approached the job. On the first day of the hearings at the High Court [16 September] Yury Dmitriev demanded that the judges recuse themselves and they refused.

As you have probably heard, in his letter Yury Dmitriev also wrote that he had become rather hard of hearing during his time in the Detention Centre: he couldn’t hear what was being said [in court], asked for things to be repeated, but they rebuffed him and were even on the point of removing him from the hearing. This was all recorded in his statements, but they paid no attention.

Furthermore, I asked them to return the case to the Petrozavodsk City Court because I was not familiar with the records of these meetings. That petition was also turned down. They just steamrollered their way forward.

ZS – As I understand it, so many procedural violations occurred during the appeal hearings that there is sufficient material for normal lawyers to annul that ruling.

VA – All we have to do is find “normal lawyers”. You mean judges?

ZS – I’m thinking of the Court of Cassation in St Petersburg.

VA – Yes, God willing, I hope that all these parochial circumstances will not affect them greatly. The Court of Cassation was devised so as to take decisions independently. It’s not been working for long and has been quite independent in the decisions it takes. If it leaves everything as it is now, however, we shall have no use for such bodies.

MBK Media, 30 September 2020