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.
The hearing took place today, despite quarantine measures announced in connection with the Covid-19 outbreak.
Yury DMITRIEV in corridor of Petrozavodsk City Courthouse, 23 March 2020
Supporters caught a glimpse of Yury Dmitriev as he was escorted along the corridor. To judge by his appearance, he had recovered from his sickness. “He looked well and had put on weight,” Anatoly RAZUMOV told the Petersburg Human Rights Council over the phone from Petrozavodsk.
Dmitriev was glad that the new edition of his book, Sandarmokh, a Place of Remembrance, was being acquired by libraries in Russia, and sent greetings to all concerned about his situation.
The next court hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, 14 April. As usual, today’s hearing took place behind closed doors. Dmitriev’s detention in custody has been prolonged until 28 June.
Russian historian Yury DMITRIEV turned 64 on 28 January 2020. It was his third birthday detained on charges that bear no scrutiny, and his arrest coincided with the beginnings of a campaign to rewrite the history of one of the darkest pages of the Soviet Terror – the mass killing by quota of Russians, Ukrainians and other prisoners of the Solovetsky Archipelago at the Sandormokh Clearing in Karelia in 1937.
Yury Dmitriev after his acquittal in April 2018, The stone at the entrance to the Sandormokh memorial complex
If the current regime in Russia was hoping to silence Dmitriev, it has failed. The historian and head of the Karelian branch of the Memorial Society has just published a book entitled Sandarmokh: A Place of Memory, providing information about both the victims and the perpetrators of the mass executions in the forest. In a recent letter, Dmitriev wrote that
“it is memory that makes human beings human, and not a part of the population. […] While I’m alive, I won’t allow them to rewrite our common history. […] The attempt to rewrite the history of Sandarmokh is part of the strategy of the current regime, an attempt to return our country to a camp “surrounded by enemies”. The aim is to retain their power. A frightened population will always seek protection from a strong leader”.
In a preface to the book, Dmitriev repeats this central theme about the pivotal role of memory. He points out that, while Sandarmokh is a place of memory, for him it is also a place of education where people cease to be a faceless population and are transformed into a nation, conscious of their shared fate.
A rare moment of justice from a Russian court has proved all too fleeting, writes Halya Coynash. On 14 June, Karelia’s High Court overturned the acquittal in April of world-renowned historian Yury Dmitriev and sent the ‘case’ back for retrial. Dmitriev’s imprisonment and trial had been widely viewed as politically-motivated persecution, and his acquittal – the only possible verdict after the charges were totally demolished by experts.
Three bits of advice that may be of help to those travelling to Petrozavodsk for the hearing tomorrow, writes Maria Ruzina:
the court hearing on Thursday, 14 June, at 3 pm will take place not on Krasnaya St as we had imagined. Yury Alexeyevich DMITRIEV says it will be held at 27 Kirov Street. That’s where the Supreme Court of Karelia is actually located.
If you arrive during the night or early mornring, it will be difficult to find a cup of coffee, a bun and wifi. Locals have even told me there are no all-night cafes in the centre of Petrozavodsk.
In the Brusnika [blueberry] hostel at 34 Antikainen Street, 15 minutes’ walk from the courthouse, a bed in the dormitory costs 420 roubles. It’s clean, quiet and the internet works without interruption. That’s where I’m writing from, in fact.
For those who can’t travel to Petrozavodsk, let’s hold solitary pickets in our towns and cities. All you need is to post a photo showing a placard held up against the local sights. Write on it #Greetings to Dmitriev. What do you think? Are you ready? Natalia Sivohina, St Petersburg.
“Yury Alexeyevich, Petersburg is with you!” (Natalia Sivohina)
On 14 June, writes Inga Prosvetova, the World Cup opens in Russia and solitary pickets are prohibited. But our heroes can always find a loophole: so far there’s no ban on decorating your clothes with slogans (so long as these exclude obscenities).
If you add them by hand on the morning of 14 June, toothpaste or marker pens will be enough and last the day out on your jeans.
Be careful, warns Natalya Dyomina. A court has just imposed a 10,000 rouble fine for a solitary picket in support of Oleg SENTSOV. The judge was not prepared to listen to any legal argument.