On 27 December 2021, the Petrozavodsk City Court in Karelia will deliver its third verdict in the case of Yury DMITRIEV. The highest court in the land remains silent; lawyers from Memorial’s Human Rights Centre have submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The court in Karelia will be serving an “unprecedented” third judgement on issues thoroughly aired at Dmitriev’s two previous trials where he was twice acquitted of the self-same charges.
Yury Dmitriev and Victor Anufriev, March 2018
The republic’s High Court decided otherwise, quadrupling the sentence for sexual abuse of a minor, and returning the charges of child pornography and non-violent abuse to be considered a third time.
Dmitriev’s defence attorney Victor Anufriev has demonstrated, twice, that his client has no charge to answer. Meeting the accusations head on with testimony from a succession of experts, Anufriev has shown within the framework of current legislation and the procedures of the Russian judicial system that Yury DMITRIEV is innocent. If he is now convicted the decision will be based not on the rule of law or established procedure but on other extra-judicial criteria.
Much of the discussion in the first two cases, as journalist Nikita Girin showed, concerns the kind of photos and parental behaviour to be found in any family. So what has driven this relentless persecution? Earlier events and the timing of the last few days, as the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the Memorial Society themselves face liquidation by the courts, offer a further suggestion.
Pursuing a Loner
Dmitriev and the evidence against him “fit the bill” like none other.
Potential supporters in Russia, not to mention the West, would have second thoughts about anyone accused of “child pornography” or the “sexual abuse” of a minor – offences regarded in the West with a strong and barely rational horror.
Yury Dmitriev with Witch, his beloved stray Alsatian
It also helped that Dmitriev is something of a loner. It was the popular and well-connected Ivan Chukhin who created Memorial in Karelia, not his blunt and outspoken protege. DMITRIEV, therefore, would not have the extensive network of supporters that others enjoyed (Blinushov in Ryazan, say, or Latypov in Perm). This assumption has been proven wrong on many levels. Memorial itself promptly came to his aid: in December 2016 Arseny Roginsky, then in his last year of life, wrote a firm letter to the chief prosecutor in Karelia, urging him to dismiss the charges.
These aspects of the case, however, explain why, as an all-out assault was launched against Memorial, the hitherto obscure Dmitriev in Karelia was singled out for such persistent “judicial” persecution.
Certain facts of chronology indicate that something more than the antipathy of the local FSB head in Karelia was in play.
Orders from Above
In January 2017, barely a month after Dmitriev’s first arrest, a short 14-minute programme on national television “What does Memorial have to hide?” linked his supposed engagement in the production and distribution of child pornography with Memorial’s own ‘dubious connections’ as the recipient of funds from abroad (the Memorial Society was designated a “foreign agent” on 4 October 2016).
In November 2016, a month before Dmitriev’s arrest, the head of the Karelian Republic Alexander Hudolainen gave Dmitriev the Honorary Diploma of Karelia, the highest award in his gift. This suggests that decisions about the case were being taken at a higher level. (Hudolainen was himself increasingly unpopular within Karelia and resigned the following spring.)
These two events suggest another interpretation. On orders from above there was an active search to find “compromising material” (kompromat as it is known in Russian) about some local Memorial figure. That would explain in part the rapid appearance of the TV programme in January 2017 and why the head of Karelia was unaware of the fate in store for Dmitriev.
Such an interpretation pushes back the search for compromising material, and its report to the police (or, more likely, to the FSB), to dates earlier than those of which we are currently aware, e.g., the anonymous denunciation of Dmitriev in early December 2016, supposedly, to the police in Petrozavodsk. It seems likely that the photos were identified long before as the “Achilles heel” of this tough independent researcher. After five years as head of the republican FSB, Anatoly Seryshev moved to Moscow the year that Dmitriev’s persecution began. (Job done? A reward?)
Without a doubt it was because DMITRIEV and his second wife became little Natasha’s foster parents in 2008 that he ultimately presented such a welcome additional target in a smear campaign directed at Memorial.
Apart from the vile allegations about his relations with his foster daughter, in accordance with time-honoured Cheka methods Natasha served as an ideal hostage.
For saving a sickly three-year-old from the fate he himself endured as an inmate of a children’s home Dmitriev has since been pilloried and held up for national hatred and condemnation.
It is a tribute to his attorney and numerous supporters that this smear campaign did not succeed either in Russia or in the world at large. Instead, an obscure but worthy local researcher has become a national and international hero.
John Crowfoot, 26 December 2021