Over sixteen months (August 1937-November 1938), more than one and a half million people were arrested in the USSR and sentenced in their absence by regional tribunals — the extra-judicial troika (“three member commissions”), dvoika (“two member commissions”), and Special Board — or by the Military College of the Supreme Court in Moscow. No defence was offered.
Half of those arrested were sentenced to death. They were shot and buried all over the Soviet Union in killing fields like Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh in Karelia, discovered and investigated by Yury DMITRIEV. The others were sent to the Gulag for up to ten years of forced labour.
For a long while the concurrent Show Trials in Moscow of leading Old Bolsheviks (1936-1938) led many in the Soviet Union and abroad to believe that this unprecedented bloodshed was linked to a “purge” of the Communist Party. Archival research since the late 1980s has shown that the vast majority of those arrested and shot or imprisoned were picked up according to regional quotas, issued by the NKVD in Moscow.
The child’s voice failed to be heard not just by the chairman of Petrozavodsk City Council Bondarchuk, while the court heard the girl’s statement about how much she loved her adoptive father.
As for unlawful threat to privacy, the Karelian children’s ombudsman Sarayev did not, for some reason, try to sue Rossiya TV or REN TV channels for broadcasting the photos from the “health diary” to the entire country.
In short, local officials requested the continued persecution of DMITRIEV. After that nothing stood in the way of executing the ready-made scenario.
What the victim says
The statement of the allegations was written by the grandmother. At the evidence session she said how after DMITRIEV’s acquittal in early April 2018 she read in the TVR-Panorama newspaper that the historian wants the child back in his care. There was indeed such a report in TVR-Panorama. There is no quote from Dmitriev about the girl, but there is the author’s commentary: “As Dmitriev’s family says, this case will only end when the historian gets his adopted daughter back.”
The grandmother gave the article to her granddaughter to read and claims that the girl said: “I want to write a statement about Dmitriev, if I tell them everything about him, they’ll jail him for 30 years!”
Literally one week earlier, friends from the Moscow International Film School were in touch with Dmitriev’s adopted daughter, as usual.
Students from the Film School are the historian’s old friends, they were the first to make a noise when he was arrested, they found him a lawyer and launched a campaign in his support. And it was through Dmitriev that his adopted daughter made friends with the Film School students. One of them, Sasha Kononova, said that on that occasion also the girl was warm and friendly. But in early April, straight after the acquittal, she abruptly cut off contact.
The historian Yury DMITRIEV was accused of touching his adopted daughter’s genital area on several occasions;
At the age of eight the girl suffered episodes of involuntary urination (enuresis);
DMITRIEV touched the child’s genital area to check if her underwear was dry when he could smell urine, after which he took his daughter to have a wash;
The diagnosis of enuresis was supported by hospital release notes;
Three psychiatric investigations concluded that DMITRIEV displayed no sexually deviant tendencies;
Linguistic experts from the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the Russian Language analysed the texts of the girl’s interrogation and attested to communicative pressure applied by the investigator. A Moscow University professor analysed the texts of the girl’s conversations with a psychologist and believed that the girl’s statements concerning DMITRIEV’s actions did not display the criteria typical of recollections of a traumatic experience.
The success of the prosecution in the Dmitriev case appears to correspond to the career moves of Anatoly Seryshev, former head of the FSB in Karelia.
Yury DMITRIEV (photo Tomasz Kizny)
I am finishing this text in Yury Dmitriev’s flat, in the room that used to belong to his adopted daughter. The shelves still hold several of her toys, her story books, and school notebooks. From the window you can see her school, with sleepless seagulls crying above; night trains pass close by and seem to hoot in reply.
Dmitriev is confined to the old castle in the very centre of Petrozavodsk. The detention centre is surrounded by good restaurants and pleasant views, but his prison offers different kinds of entertainment. In mid-April 2019, two cellmates spent several days trying to persuade the historian to make a confession to the investigators. If he didn’t, they threatened to “degrade” (i.e. sodomise) him. Dmitriev contacted the centre’s management. If he was attacked he would defend himself, he explained, and not be responsible for the consequences. They transferred him to a different cell.
The incident says something about the quality of evidence in the case.
Second Arrest, June 2018
Dmitriev contributed, in part, to his second arrest. After his acquittal was annulled in June 2018, the Supreme Court of Karelia imposed a travel ban, forbidding Dmitriev to leave Petrozavodsk. On 27 June, however, the historian and a neighbour decided to visit their acquaintance’s grave in New Vilga, a village a few kilometres outside the city limits, and then go to pray at the Alexandro-Svirsky monastery in the Leningrad Region, 160 kms away.
Dmitriev consulted his lawyer. Victor Anufriev strictly forbade him to travel without the court’s permission. The court had already allowed Dmitriev to go to Moscow in May to collect a prize from the Moscow Helsinki Group for his historic contribution to the defence of human rights and to the human rights movement. A stubborn and self-reliant man, Dmitriev listened to his lawyer and then went anyway. A half-day trip out of Petrozavodsk was no big deal, he thought, since he had already travelled to the capital for a few days.
The verdict is due tomorrow in what a huge number of prominent Russians have called one of the grubbiest political trials in the country. Modern Russia has long been imprisoning people for their civic position or beliefs, but the case of renowned historian of the Terror and Memorial activist, Yury DMITRIEV, stands out for the brutal use of a child to try to destroy both the historian and his reputation.
Trumped-up “child pornography” charges in the first trial were demolished by experts and, in the face of national and international condemnation, led to an initial acquittal. Law enforcement bodies came back for more. After unwarrantedly getting the acquittal revoked, they reinstated the initial indictment , while adding grotesque charges of “violent actions of a sexual nature” against the same daughter whom Dmitriev has not seen since December 2016.
Taking a 12-year-old child away from the only family she had ever known, Russia has used her age as an excuse for holding the entire “trial” behind closed doors. Details have now become clear, however, both from Dmitriev’s final address to the court on 8 July and from other information that confirm the cruel cynicism behind this case and lack of any grounds for the charges.
A father’s legitimate concerns
It is clear that there were never any “violent actions” and nothing of a sexual nature in Dmitriev’s behaviour, only a father’s legitimate concerns for his daughter’s well-being.
This was confirmed during the first trial in which the prosecution had tried to treat as “child pornography” photographs taken over a period of years, documenting the height and weight of a little girl who had been weak and underweight when taken from a children’s home.
It seems that the new charges, for which the prosecutor has demanded a 15-year prison sentence, are in connection with a period when Natasha was eight years old and began having attacks of enuresis (involuntary urinating). Like any other parent in such a situation, Dmitriev would, if he noticed the tell-tale smell, pat the little girl’s knickers around the area of the groin to see if they were wet, and if necessary get her to have a wash. There is confirmation in Natasha’s medical records that she was suffering from enuresis, yet the prosecution has claimed that these were “violent actions of a sexual nature”.
In view of the expanding Corona virus epidemic, Russian lawyers are calling for many held by the Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) to be released. One obvious candidate, almost continuously imprisoned since December 2016, is Yury DMITRIEV. At the last hearing in his slow-moving trial his detention in custody was extended until the end of June.
In an article in the widely-read Moskovsky komsomolets daily paper, lawyer Alexander Pikhovkin says that the FPS is lagging behind society as a whole and should start releasing detainees and some of its half-million prisoners.
“The Moscow section of the Federal Penitentiary Service is refusing to accept any new inmates in its detention centres,” writes Pikhovkin.