At the Supreme 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 two detailed articles 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.
On 22 July 2020 Petrozavodsk City Court sentenced Yury DMITRIEV to three and a half years’ imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony for “acts of a sexual nature committed against a minor”. Irina Levontina presented the findings of the linguistic specialists invited by the defence at the trial. [She is a senior research associate of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Russian Language.]
Their assessment played a significant role, it seems, in the award of such a mild sentence: the Criminal Code suggests a minimum of 12 years’ imprisonment for such a crime.
Irina Levontina (MBK media)
ZOYA SVETOVA (ZS) – With Academician Alexander Moldovan, Anna Dybo (Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and Alexei Shmelyov – all famous linguists – you prepared an expert assessment at the request of Yury Dmitriev’s defence. On which of the case materials did you base your findings?
IRINA LEVONTINA (IL) – They gave us seven texts, some with accompanying video. They were [Natasha’s] conversations with the psychologist and the cross-examination of a minor [by the investigator]. The case was held behind closed doors, so I can hardly tell you anything about the content of the texts we analysed. Before and especially after sentence was pronounced a heated discussion broke out.
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 foster 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 foster 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 foster 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 foster 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 foster 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.
In his last words to the court on 8 July DMITRIEV explained his own background and how this influenced his work and his decision to adopt three-year-old Natasha. (Text first published by Meduza.)
This is already the second time I’ve made a closing statement in this endless trial. And I’d like to clarify my position, if it isn’t already clear to the court, as to why I am the man I am, why I act as I do, and why I ended up in this cage.
Your honor, I have made it plain that I am perhaps not an entirely ordinary person like most others. What I mean is, I was born a healthy, normal person, but I didn’t know my biological parents, where they were from and of what nationality, to what faith or culture they adhered. And this has fueled in me a great search for my own roots. I’ve been trying to find them for more than thirty years, so far without much success, but I think I’ll get to the truth of all this someday — I’ll find out what blood courses through my veins and what genes animate me. That is why, as a child adopted when he was one and a half, the subject of abandoned children is dear to me, something I feel as a personal experience.
Yury DMITRIEV at liberty in 2018 (photo by Vladimir Larionov, Reuters)
Yes, many crave to learn their own roots. Why? To find out which culture you belong to. Now, I’m not saying I’m a descendant of some princely line. What matters is to understand which people claim me as a son. What separates human beings from insects — from butterflies or beetles — is the fact that we have memory. And this memory of our ancestors, preferably going back seven generations or more, makes you more independent in your judgments, and it allows you to draw better conclusions because the memory of generations is concentrated in you. I lack such knowledge, unfortunately, which is why I strive for it.
Why am I saying all this? So that you can understand the motives that guided my actions, your honor, when I took in another child who had lost her parents and guardians. Whatever obstacles we faced (created out of thin air, at the request of one or two officials) they weren’t so insurmountable as to prevent my wife and I welcoming the child into our family. […]