Yuri Dmitriev filed a complaint with the ECHR


The case against Yuri Dmitriev, the head of the Memorial (Karelia), is unusual: the four-year trial has become one of the most notorious trials in recent years due to the public outcry both in Russia and at the international level. The verdict on appeal in September 2020 was unprecedented. First, the favorable decision of the court of the first instance was canceled in full again. Previously in 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court tried the case in a new composition for another year and a half. Second, the punishment was increased by almost four times compared with the court of first instance’s decision, from three and a half years of imprisonment to 13. Third, the court's bias was shown via multiple violations during the proceedings.

In the complaint to the ECHR, Marina Agaltsova and Natalia Sekretareva, the lawyers of the Memorial Human Rights Center, claimed the violations of Article 6 of the European Convention (Right to a fair trial); Article 7 (No punishment without law); Article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) separately and in conjunction with Article 18 (Limitations on use of restrictions on rights).

On December 13, 2016, Yuri Dmitriev was arrested on charges of the production of pornographic materials using photographs of his minor adopted daughter (Art. 242.2 of the Criminal Code, paragraph «c», part 2). Later, the charges of sexual misconduct (Art. 135, Art. 135, part 3 – this is how the process of making photos of the child was qualified) and illegal keeping of firearms (actually, a broken fragment of an old hunting rifle) were added. On April 5, 2018, Dmitriev was acquitted on the first and second charges by the Petrozavodsk City Court but was found guilty of keeping of firearms. On June 14, 2018, the verdict was overturned in appeal by the Republic of Karelia’s Supreme Court. Dmitriev was charged under Art. 132, of the Criminal Code («Sexual assault against a person under 14 years of age»). It is how the prosecution qualified the touching of the child's body. Dmitriev himself explained it as the child care for the girl who suffered from urinary incontinence. On July 20, 2020, Dmitriev was acquitted of charges of producing child pornography (Art. 242.2 of the Criminal Code, paragraph «c», part 2), sexual misconduct (Art. 135 of the Criminal Code), illegal keeping of firearms (Art. 222, part 1 of the Criminal Code), but was found guilty under Art. 132, paragraph «b», part 4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation after further investigation and re-trial by the new composition of the court. The court decided that touching her daughter’s body was an act of sexual misconduct since it could provoke her early interest in sex life. But since she was a minor, the court qualified these actions under Art. 132 paragraph «b», part 4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – «Other acts of a sexual nature». He was sentenced to 3 years and six months of imprisonment in a high-security penal colony. Considering the time that Dmitriev had already spent in custody, he was supposed to be released in November 2020.

On September 29, 2020, the Supreme Court of Karelia overturned the guilty verdict under Art. 132, paragraph «b», part 4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and returned a new verdict. Dmitriev was sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment in a high-security penal colony. Besides, the court overturned the acquittal under Art. 242.2 of the Criminal Code, paragraph «c», part 2; Art. 135 (as amended on December 27, 2009) and Art. 222, part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, the case was sent to the Petrozavodsk City Court for reconsideration in a new composition. The Supreme Court considered that Dmitriev satisfied his sexual needs via touchings of his daughter’s body. At the same time, two examinations confirmed that Dmitriev had no signs of pedophilia. The sexologist L. M. Scheglov argued in court that the repeated acts of sexual nature toward minors could be performed only by a person with pedophilia disorder.

On February 16, 2021, the Supreme Court of Karelia’s decision was upheld by the third General Jurisdiction Court of Cassation.

Yuri Dmitriev pleads himself not guilty to any of the charges. He explains the actions imputed to him as depraved and violent, as parental care for an adopted child with multiple health issues in need of focused attention, checks of physical development and health conditions, and parental assistance on an everyday basis. There are medical certificates that confirm a more than 30% underweight of the girl, issues with internal organs, and urinary incontinence.

There are multiple signs of deliberate fabrication of accusations in investigation and collection of evidence in the case: an anonymous statement about Dmitriev's allegedly criminal actions, participation of clearly unqualified experts, psychological pressure on a traumatized teenager to obtain the answers needed for the prosecution. The experts engaged by the defense – sexologists, pediatricians, art historians, and linguists, have been proved the insufficiency and bias of the accusation’s evidence. It was also stated in the conclusions of several court-appointed independent examinations. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Yury Dmitriev as a political prisoner in 2017 after studying the case materials; the Memorial confirmed the status in 2019 after examining the new case materials.

Yuri Dmitriev has been researching the history of Stalinist repressions in Karelia since 1988. He searched for mass executions and reburied the remains, arranging the commemoration sites; he was an active organizer of commemorative events. He played a crucial role in the discovery of Sandarmokh, the largest shooting ground in Karelia, which became a memorial complex with annual public commemorative actions. People from different countries, the descendants of the victims who were shot there, participated in the remembrance actions. There were speeches with the critical re-evaluation of the current political situation, including those delivered by Dmitriev. The persecution of Dmitriev was accompanied by the state media campaign toward the Sandarmokh memorial complex. It was announced that during the Second World War, the place was used by Finns for the execution of Soviet prisoners of war. There are no proofs, so the Russian military and historical society organized two excavation campaigns to use the results to «confirm» it. The real aims of the persecution of Yuri Dmitriev are to punish him for his critics of current state policy; to stop his work on documentation of the Stalinist regime’s crimes due to its conflict with the «official» position regarding that part of history; to deride the International Memorial and its member organizations, and to describe their work as aimed to tarnish the image of Russia abroad.

The complaint recites many court actions that violated Yury Dmitriev's right to a fair trial (Art. 6 of the Convention).

During the hearings, he was deprived of practical and effective legal assistance. Yuri Dmitriev's lawyer wasn’t able to attend the hearings due to his illness, so he asked to postpone the hearings. However, the court did not satisfy this motion. The court appointed a lawyer Artyom Cherkasov, despite the client’s disagreement and Cherkasov's motion for Anufriev’s participation as Dmitriev’s lawyer. Artem Cherkasov had only three days to familiarize himself with the case materials, which means about an hour for each volume. He did not come to the pre-trial detention center to Dmitriev and never discussed the case in confidence; they only had a ten-minute online meeting before the hearings. During the hearing, one petition was presented by him, and it was about his fee. Therefore, he did not carry out any real defense but gave a formal appearance.

Yuri Dmitriev could not effectively participate in the appeal due to hearing issues – there’s a medical opinion on 30% hearing loss. He claimed it to the court and applied to participate in the hearings personally, but the court dismissed the request. When he asked to repeat, there were negative responses of the judges. So, he could only hear 40% of the hearings.

The court was not impartial; it took on the prosecution’s role. The court appointed the third examination of the photographs but in an authoritarian way. The parties were not asked in which expert institution they considered it necessary to conduct an examination. The court did not allow the parties to familiarize themselves with the expert opinion before the meeting; they had no opportunity to interrogate the experts and provide a review for the examination. The court of the first instance transferred the conduction of examination to experts from another region to avoid accusations of bias, but that court turned to experts involved in «pornographic examinations» in other cases in Karelia. Regarding the process of appointment and examination of expertise, it seemed that the court was sure about the results of expert evaluation of the photographs, and it was the very reason to involve those experts. So, the decision of the court of appeal about the re-examination was due to the need to obtain an expert opinion to confirm Dmitriev's guilt.

The adversarial principle and the principle of equality of parties were violated during the trial. The court deprived Dmitriev of the opportunity to familiarize himself with the text of the examination in advance. The parties did not have the chance to interrogate the experts since the court did not summon them to the hearing. The court did not allow the defense to challenge the examination, namely, to submit a review.

The punishment imposed on Yuri Dmitriev was not substantiated by law (violation of Art. 7 of the Convention).

The broad term «Other acts of a sexual nature» used in the charges and court decisions can be interpreted in any way. It can be used to describe both violent acts of a sexual nature, except for rape, and minor violations, namely, kissing without the victim’s consent. The principle of Art. 7 of the European Convention states that criminal law cannot be interpreted broadly to harm the accused. Dmitriev could not predict the interpretation of his actions to control the child's condition (this motive was confirmed by the testimony of doctors and medical certificates) as «actions of a sexual nature». Actually, any touching of a child's body can be interpreted this way. There was no evidence of a sexually charged motive for his actions. However, the court interpreted the actions as sexual actions.

The characterization of the aim as «satisfaction of sexual need» was used by the court deliberately. It was combined artificially on the basis of unconfirmed facts or those taken from different periods.

The court’s actions have the form of unlawful interference with the family and private life of Yuri Dmitriev and his daughter (violation of Art. 8 of the Convention).

The arrest and persecution of Yuri Dmitriev incurred the removal of the child from the family, the destruction of family ties, gross and traumatic intrusion upon the child’s privacy. This impact was not legal since Dmitriev did not take any pornographic photographs of his daughter and did not commit «other acts of a sexual nature» toward her.

The restriction of his rights and freedoms was a politically charged one (violation of Art. 18 of the Convention).

The real goal of the persecution of Yuri Dmitriev is revealed by its context and the efforts made by the pro-government media to publicly denigrate both himself and the case: to let the society understand the punishability of an active civil and research position and to demonstrate the ways of reprisals for such activities.

The persecution of Yuri Dmitriev continued the trend to revise the Soviet past, that is, to belittle the significance and scale of political repression, sacralize the way of remembrance about World WarII $3 and victory. It also incorporated into a campaign to denigrate the International Memorial’s work, accuse the organization of serving foreign interests, undermining the foundations of society, and spreading anti-Russian propaganda. Finally, the persecution of Dmitriev is part of a campaign to eliminate dissent in Karelia: since 2013, criminal cases have been regularly initiated against opposition politicians and public figures in the region, including Yuri Dmitriev.