Natasha “held firm – she did not utter a single unnecessary word”

Irina Levontina, expert linguist at the Dmitriev trial, talks to Zoya Svetova for MBK Media about her work on the case and the pressures now faced by court experts.

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On 22 July 2020 Petrozavodsk City Court sentenced Yury DMITRIEV to three and a half years’ imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony for “violent 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.

Some people have seen the case materials and know what they contain. They are bound by an undertaking not to reveal their contents. Others have not seen the case materials. Their fantasy knows no limits – they can make any assumptions and confidently make assertions about the case. Those who know they’re wrong cannot refute them in detail. It’s very hard, therefore, to conduct any kind of dialogue.

“Ugh. I don’t like paedophiles,” thoroughly decent people write to me. “How can you defend a paedophile? I don’t believe he’s innocent.” All the while I ask myself, ‘Why are you so sure it couldn’t happen to you?’ They believe it happens to others who, probably, have messed up badly. But to themselves, never! After watching many hours of the girl’s interrogation, I grew quite depressed: I could see how easily a case like that could be conjured out of nothing.

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Now is the time to Speak Out

Today the Supreme Court of Karelia is hearing appeals from prosecution and defence against the verdict pronounced at Yury DMITRIEV’s trial on 22 July this year.

The prosecution has slightly “softened” its demands: now it is asking not for 15 but 13 years’ imprisonment. The defence, as before, demands that Dmitriev be cleared of all charges.

We must stand together today, in thought and word and deed, and say: No, we have not given up, we have not shut up and gone away, we are NOT happy with this verdict, even if it is the best possible in the circumstances. Our banner reads “Not Guilty!”

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Appeals to be Heard on 16 September

On Wednesday, 16 September 2020, the Supreme Court of Karelia will hear the appeals submitted by both defence and prosecution after the 22 July verdict and sentence in the trial of Yury DMITRIEV.

The investigation and prosecution of the historian and head of the Memorial Society in Karelia began in December 2016 and has lasted almost four years, during which time Dmitriev has been detained, almost continually, at detention & investigation centre No 1 in Petrozavodsk.

The current appeals

Dmitriev’s defence has appealed against his conviction on one of the charges and called for his acquittal on all counts.

Under the Russian judicial system, the prosecution is also entitled to appeal. The prosecution has protested about the exceptionally light sentence (3 ½ years) and is calling, as it did during the closing statements, for a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony.

The charges and the verdict

The evidence and expert testimony supporting and opposing a range of charges against the historian have been heard and evaluated at two trials since June 2017.

After examining the charges, the International Memorial Society declared on 28 June 2017 that Dmitriev was a “political prisoner”. The case against him was fabricated, said Memorial, and Dmitriev was innocent of all charges.

Today 64 years old, Dmitriev has been prosecuted for a number of  crimes under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He was acquitted of all but one charge in April 2018. Tried again between October 2018 and July 2020 for two of the same offences and a further charge, he was found guilty of the new crime but given a minimal sentence.

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