On the Yury Dmitriev Affair


Yury Dmitriev is a historian from Petrozavodsk and head of the Karelian branch of the human rights organization Memorial. Since the late 1980s, Dmitriev has been studying the history of Stalinist repressions in Karelia, compiling lists of victims and reconstructing their biographies (these lists and stories have been published in five Books of Remembrance since 1997) and searching for pits where the executed were buried. One of the mass burial sites Dmitriev found was Sandarmokh, the biggest execution site in Karelia in 1937-1938. Thanks to him, Sandarmokh has been preserved as a memorial site.

In 2008 Dmitriev took a three-year-old girl (born in 2005) home from an orphanage. At the time, Dmitriev already had ample experience raising and educating children, since he’d already nurtured his own son and daughter through their own childhoods. They were adults with their own families by the time Dmitriev adopted the child. In addition, he had completed a course for adoptive parents. Dmitriev himself had been adopted as a child, and he’d long had the desire to adopt a child from an orphanage. The little girl was sickly and weak; as is documented in medical records, her physical development had been set back significantly. One of Dmitriev’s primary goals was to restore his daughter’s health and improve her physical condition.

Yury Dmitriev has been under investigation or on trial since 2016. He is accused of crimes of a sexual nature which were allegedly committed against his adopted daughter.

The history of Yury Dmitriev’s persecution and prosecution, and the details of his case, testify eloquently to the artificial, fabricated nature of the accusation and to Dmitriev’s innocence. In 2017, the human rights organization Memorial recognized Yury Dmitriev as a political prisoner. He has been in custody for three years now, in a pre-trial detention center in the city of Petrovodsk. Yury Dmitriev’s sentence is set to be announced in July 2020. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

What is Yury Dmitriev being accused of, and how is the accusation being framed?

Photographs of Dmitriev’s adopted daughter without clothes were found on his home computer (at the time of his arrest the girl was 11 years old, while in the photos she was 4, 5, and 7 years old). Dmitriev explains that he took them to document the child’s state of health, since the orphanage had left her in frail health.

These photographs became the foundation for the following accusation:

  • Article 242.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, paragraph «c», part 2 («Use of a minor for the purpose of producing pornographic materials or items»)

Then, without providing any additional facts or reasons whatsoever for that first accusation, two more charges were added:

  • Article 135 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in the version of December 8, 2003 (No. 162-FZ) and July 21, 2004 (No. 73-FZ) («The commission of lecherous acts without the use of force by an individual who has reached the age of 18 towards an individual who is known not to have yet reached the age of 16»)
  • Article 135 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, part 3 in the version of December 27, 2009 (No. 377-FZ) («The commission of lecherous acts without the use of force by an individual who has reached the age of 18 towards an individual who is known not to have yet reached the age of 12»)

During a search of Dmitriev’s apartment, a non-functional piece of an Izhevsk-5 hunting rifle including the sawed-off barrel was found, so yet another accusation was added:

  • Article 222 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, part 1 («Illegal possesion of the major components of a firearm»)

On April 5, 2018, Yury Dmitriev was fully acquitted by the Petrozavodsk Municipal Court of charges related to the following articles: Article 242.2, paragraph «c», part 2; Article 135; and Article 135, part 3. The charge of illegal possession of a weapon was upheld and Dmitriev spent several months under sentence not to leave the city. However, on June 14, 2018, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia overturned this decision. The prosecution presented a recording of an interview in which the girl allegedly recounts how her adoptive father touched her and that this contact was of a sexual nature.

The case was sent for further investigation on all the original accusations. On the basis of that same recording, yet another charge was brought against Dmitriev:

  • Article 132 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, part 4, item «b» («Violent acts of a sexual nature towards an individual younger than 14 years of age»)

On June 28, 2018 he was again taken into custody.

What are these accusations based on?

  • The charges pertaining to Article 242.2, paragraph «c», part 2; Article 135; and Article 135, part 3 are based on the expert testimony of 1/9/2017 provided by E. IA Boreysha-Pokorskoya (an art historian), N. N. Kryukova (a math teacher), and Z. M. Tarasova (a pediatrician), employees of the Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization «The Center for Socio-Cultural Expert Examinations» [ANO «Tsentr sotsio-kulturnykh ekspertiz»]. Nine photos were analyzed: 4 photos from 2009, 4 photos from 2010, and 1 photo from 2012. In the course of the investigation, the absence of relevant professionals such as a sexologist or child psychologist from the expert panel, as well as the incompetence of the panel’s analysis and conclusions, were brought to light by experts invited by the defense: the sexologist and professor L. M. Shcheglov, the history professor I. A. Levinskaia, and others. The court ordered a second expert examination of the photos, which was carried out from October to December of 2017 by the Federal Department of Independent Courtroom Expertise, LLC [ OOO «Federalnyi department nezavisimoy sudebnoy ekspertizy»] and which declared the photographs to be everyday pictures absent of pornographic elements. Nevertheless, the not-guilty verdict was reversed in June 2018, which for all practical intents and purposes took the court back to the arguments made by the Center for Socio-Cultural Expert Examinations, even though these had been proven, multiple times, to be without merit.
  • The charges pertaining to Article 132 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, part 4, item «b» were based on the testimony of a young girl, an adolescent who had been forcibly removed from the family that had nurtured and raised her and was being held in isolation and kept in a state of constant psychological pressure from her new caretaker and the investigating officers. Moreover, the actual words the girl said during the conversation were subject to a predetermined interpretation which the investigator ascribed to her, after the fact, as her own opinion.
  • The charges pertaining to Article 222 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, part 1 were based on an expert examination that determined that the section of smooth-bore hunting rifle, which Dmitriev had found outside and which was devoid of any operational explosive mechanisms, was an operable firearm.

Therefore, the grounds upon which such serious accusations were made are either questionable or wholly without merit and require meticulous critical analysis. Moreover, a wealth of indirect evidence that surfaced in the course of the investigation itself points to the contrived nature of the accusation.

Signs indicating that the case was falsified and Dmitriev is innocent:

  • The criminal case was brought against Yury Dmitriev based on an anonymous tip which was supposedly mailed to the police. The anonymous tipper informed police that Dmitriev had taken photos of his [Dmitriev’s] adopted daughter and asked the police to take the necessary measures. No steps were taken during the investitation to seek out the anonymous tipper or to ascertain his or her motives. Also, in spite of the defense lawyer’s motion, the court refused to take measures to seek out the author of the tip and include him or her in the court investigation as a witness, even though such testimony would undoubtedly have been of great importance as far as ensuring court proceedings were fair.
  • Yury Dmitriev informed the investigators more than once that several days before his arrest he had noticed signs that an unknown individual had been in his apartment, although nothing had been stolen. The investigation ignored this information completely and the fact of illegal entry into Dmitriev’s apartment was passed over entirely, although if it had been investigated, it could have shed light on a lot of things in the case.
  • The expert evaluation of the photographs, as has already been noted, was tasked to the employees of the Center for Socio-Cultural Expert Examinations. This choice was hardly coincidental, since this company has long been infamous for corruption. Over the past several years, the Center’s experts have produced a whole series of incompetent prosucutorial expert examinations for a number of politically-motivated cases in which the accused are charged with extremism, offending the feelings of religious believers, and so forth. These include the Pussy Riot case, the case against Jehovah’s Witnesses (where one of the texts that was declared to be extremest literature was the Bible), and others.
  • As regards the content of the the photgraphs Dmitriev took: authoritative experts do not consider it pornography. There are no other people and no objects in the photos, no demonstrations or imitations of any acts at all; Dmitriev himself isn’t in the frame. Moreover, the investigation did not confirm a single instance of publication of the photographs, either on social networks or anywhere else. The photographs were never processed and never printed. They were never shown to anyone and never passed along to anyone. Thus the accusation that Dmitriev was distributing pornography is manifestly absurd.
  • The child protection services have been monitoring the living conditions and quality of parenting provided for the girl in her adoptive family since 2008, as they do with all adopted children to ensure their rights are being protected. There were never any complaints against Dmitriev as an adoptive father.
  • Yury Dmitriev’s adopted daughter was very attached to him. She considered him her father and took it very hard when she was separated from him for the entire course of the first year of the investigation and court case. At investigative interviews in 2017 she did not remember any strange or ambiguous actions her adoptive father had ever done to or with her, nothing that offended her or made her feel awkward or embarrassed. A comprehensive battery of medical investigations and psychological and psychiatric evaluations of the girl did not reveal any signs of violence against her or of psychological trauma.
  • Dmitriev’s relatives and friends knew and loved his adopted daughter and had continued to be in touch with her in written form and by phone. But after Dmitriev was acquitted in April 2018, communication between the girl and Dmitriev’s relatives and friends was abruptly cut off. As of April 2018, no one could reach Dmitriev’s daughter or her new guardian (her grandmother) and the girl was completely isolated. In May and June 2018, the prosecution arranged for a psychologist and an investigator to have several talks with the girl, even though the investigation into the case had been completed. The recording of the last of these talks was the documentation upon which Dmitriev’s acquittal was overturned and a new accusation brought against him. It’s obvious that this documentation was created for a specific purpose and that it was carefully prepared.
  • The new charge in the case against Dmitriev surfaced completely out of nowhere, after two years of investigation and a decisive acquittal on the other charges.
  • In the course of a talk conducted in 2018, which is recorded on video, the girl said nothing that gave any indication of violent or lecherous acts performed by Dmitriev. The discussion is about several instances of touching, which, up until the time of the talk, she had never thought of as anything apart from regular child-parent relations.
  • Dmitriev himself explains this touching by saying that when the girl was eight, she developed a medical condition and so he was periodically required to dress and undress her and check whether her underclothes were dry. Dmitriev’s daughter was treated in the hospital and the information about her illness is confirmed by medical records.
  • The videorecording of the investigative interview shows that it was conducted improperly: psychological pressure was applied, and leading questions, i.e. questions that already contain the desired answer, were asked. The girl agreed with the wording that was being offered to her in order to get the conversation over with more quickly.
  • Case files also contain materials from later investigative interviews with the girl where she allegedly indicates that her adoptive father performed numerous lecherous acts. However, these investigative interviews were conducted without video- or audiorecording, which raises the question of whether these materials may have been falsified. The fact of the matter is that the charges of lecherous and violent acts are based wholly on written protocols of investigative interviews, the authenticity of which are utterly unsubstantiated.
  • The charge of keeping a firearm is based on the fact that a section of an old hunting rifle was found in Dmitriev’s apartment during a search. The firearm was broken and was not in working condition, and it has been impossible to procure cartridges for a rifle of that type for many decades now.
  • The court proceedings are closed. The public and the press are not allowed in. There is almost no information about how the case is progressing.
  • In the fall of 2018, the judge Marina Nosova, who aquitted Dmitriev, was deprived of professional advancement: after serving as the deputy chair of the Petrozavodsk Municipal Court, she was supposed to have moved on to the position of judge in the Supreme Court of Karelia, but her candidacy did not gain the necessary approvals and she was transferred down to the lower-ranked position of regular Municipcal Court judge. Meanwhile Yelena Askerova, the Petrozavodsk prosecuting attorney who was the official attorney for the government in the Dmitriev case–which ended with his acquittal–left her position, allegedly of her own free will, in order to start a business. In this way, the prosecutor and the judge, both of whom allowed an acquittal in 2018, were almost simultaneously removed from the scene and deprived of the chance to build their careers in their chosen professions.
  • In June of 2017, based on a legal analysis of the case, the human rights center Memorial declared Yury Dmitriev a political prisoner.

What is the real reason for Dmitriev’s persecution?

The persecution and prosecution of Yury Dmitriev fits with manifestly obvious societal tendencies. In recent years the attitude of the authorities towards the legacy of Stalinism has changed palpably. Memorial, an organization devoted to preserving the historical memory of Stalinist repressions, has been declared a foreign agent and hit with millions of rubles’ worth of fines. In various regions of Russia, the organizations’ activists are subjected to criminal proceedings. The state is taking control of sites that have some connection to or memory of the repressions. Places that are connected with international memories provoke especially aggressive treatment. The most obvious examples of the latter are the state memorial sites in Katyn and Mednoye, where Polish officers were executed in 1940.

In Sandarmokh the victims are of many different nationalities. There were especially high numbers of Finns, Ukrainians, and Poles among those who were killed. Yury Dmitriev did his utmost to support the national memory of those who’d died: of his own accord he initiated contact with representatives from the various diasporas, inviting them to come and pay respect to the memory of their compatriots. Every year on August 5th Dmitriev held a memorial gathering in Sandarmokh dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Great Terror. People from various contries came together to attend, including large delegations from Ukraine and Poland.

In 2014, after the war in Eastern Ukraine began, it became obvious that the local authorities were growing increasingly dissatisfied with the foreigners visiting Sandarmokh, the memorial gatherings, and the free discussions of the Russian political situation. Dmitriev himself spoke out in 2014 with a public denouncement of the war in Ukraine. In 2015, Dmitriev was not allowed to give a speech. At the same time, the historian was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit, Poland’s highest civil award, which was provocative in the context of the sharply deteriorating relations between Poland and Russia.

In 2016, state-run media outlets began actively disseminating a story according to which it was Soviet prisoners of war executed by the Finns during World WarII $3 that were buried in Sandarmokh, not victims of Stalinist repressions. At that same time, Dmitriev was arrested. In 2018 and 2019, soon after his arrest, a group called the Russian Military History Society began excavations in Sandarmokh. The purpose of the excavations, as stated in documents made public by the Society, was to search for «burial sites of prisoners in Finnish concentration camps as well as of soldiers of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army [the official title of the army from 1918 to 1946] who died in Karelia battling the Finnish occupiers between 1941 and 1944». The Russian Military History Society is a pro-government patriotic organization with absolutely no rigorous scholarly oversight. (Finnish authorities long ago gave Russia archival data on the burial of all 19,000 Soviet war prisoners that died in Finnish internment, and published the data as well; but this information has been ignored.)

Thus, it’s clear as day that the Dmitriev case is part of the authorities’ comprehensive strategy of suppressing both the action of civil society and the memory of inconvenient events from the past.

Accusations of sexual crimes as a means of reprisal

particular nature of the accusation against Dmitriev makes the situation he’s in especially cruel. Dmitriev himself is not the only victim of the prosecution, which has lasted over three years: his daughter, who was deprived of a loving family, is another victim. She is growing up (she is now 15) in isolation, in a remote Karelian village, in an environment where she completely mistrusts everyone, in the context of an endless legal process which she regards as nothing other than a constant public humiliation.

The ability to defend Dmitriev is gravely impaired due to the fact that publicly reviewing the details of the case would cause additional harm to the child. The nature of the accusation is thus extraordinarily convenient for the initiators of the case: it means that the court proceedings are closed. The Russian court system virtually never acquits those accused of sexual crimes. Furthermore, an accusation of this type is obviously meant to destroy Dmitriev’s reputation and thus to cast doubts on Dmitriev’s fundamental task: preserving the memory of Stalin-era repressions.

Fortunately, few believe that Dmitriev is guilty. Over the past three years, thousands of people have expressed their support for him, and hundreds of writers, musicians, actors, and scholars have made special addresses and petitions in his defense.

The case hasn’t yet been decided, but there are already people suffering from the prosecution of the case: Dmitriev’s adopted daughter, for one, whose life the authorities are deliberately and heartlessly ruining, and Dmitriev himself, who turned 64 at the end of January and whose health has severely deteriorated after three years in jail.

UPD June, 2020

The Case of Yuri Dmitriev. Timeline 2016–2020