Punished for memorialising Sandarmokh

(29 January 2020, continued)

Dmitriev was arrested on 13 December 2016 and spent the next 13 months in custody, charged with ‘preparing pornography involving a minor’ (Article 242.2 of Russia’s Criminal Code) and ‘depraved actions with respect to a child under the age of 11’ (Article 135). The charges pertained solely to a folder on his computer, never ‘circulated’ to anyone else, which contained 114 photos of his adopted daughter Natasha. The little girl had been painfully thin and in poor health at three years old, when he and his former wife took her from the children’s home, and the authorities had themselves advised him to monitor her development. Each of the photos, taken between 2008 and 2015 recorded her weight and height.

The ‘investigators’ came up with an ‘expert assessment’ made by a mathematician, a teacher and an art historian who obligingly perceived ‘pornography’ in nine of the photos. This assessment was rejected by Dr Lev Shcheglov, President of the National Institute of Sexology, and two other specialists, who saw nothing pornographic in the photos.

It was common practice in Russia, they confirmed, to take photographs for such medical purposes. With the trial in tatters, the prosecutor tried to get ‘a psychiatric assessment’ from the notorious Serbsky Institute. However, its psychiatrists found no aberrations, and on 5 April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court under Judge Marina Nosova acquitted Dmitriev of the ‘child pornography’ charges.

Playing for time?

It seems likely that this initial acquittal was issued to deflect public attention from the trial, and never intended as more than an interim measure.

Despite the lack of any grounds, the acquittal was revoked by the Supreme Court of Karelia on 13 June 2018, and the case sent back for ‘re-trial’ under a different judge. The sole arguments provided during the appeal hearing were objections from Natasha’s grandmother, who had abandoned the child in a children’s home where Yury Dmitriev found and adopted her. The grandmother had not seen Natasha for many years. There were also excerpts from the questioning of the child that, supposedly, demonstrated a disturbed psychological state (‘suicidal moments’).

There was no suggestion then of any allegations of sexual abuse, nor had there ever been. It was, in fact, evident from Natasha’s letter, shown to the court, that she loved and desperately missed her daddy, Dmitriev.

“I love you, Papa! and miss you terribly” (a letter from Natasha to her adoptive father, shown in court)

On 27 June 2018, Dmitriev was re-arrested, with Russia’s Investigative Committee now charging him with ‘violent acts of a sexual nature’, also against his adopted daughter, whom he had not seen since his arrest almost two years earlier.

Public condemnation

On 28 October 2019, two hundred prominent Russians issued a statement in defence of both Dmitriev and his adopted child, whose life the FSB is destroying for the sake of a grubby and politically motivated trial. The petition reads:

“Unacceptable and inhuman methods have been deployed: pressure on Dmitriev’s adopted daughter; manipulation of the child’s consciousness in order to get her to testify against a person close to her.

“The initiators of this case are trying, whatever the cost, to prevent Dmitriev’s acquittal, to blacken his name and imprison him so as to not bear liability for the unlawful organizing of criminal prosecutions and the unlawful holding of an innocent man in detention and in psychiatric institutions for nearly three years.

“This is also clearly demonstrated by the dirty campaign against Dmitriev in the media, including on federal channels. Without awaiting the end of the trial, he is already being declared a criminal. On television and in the Internet, they show photos of the girl from the file material which they could only have received from the enforcement bodies. There is also pressure on specialists.

 “The most terrible thing is that in order to achieve their lawless aims, the life is being destroyed of the child who suffered and is suffering irreparable psychological damage.”

The ‘debate’ in the second trial of Yury Dmitriev is due on 10 February. Dmitriev’s lawyer, Victor Anufriev anticipates a verdict by the end of February.

Halya Coynash

Human Rights in Ukraine
29 January 2020