Russian court sentences prominent Gulag historian to prison

A Russian court on Wednesday sentenced respected Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev to more than three years in prison on controversial sexual abuse charges in a case supporters said was fabricated to punish him for his work.

Dmitriyev, head of the prominent rights group Memorial in Karelia in northwestern Russia, spent decades locating and exhuming mass graves of people killed under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s rule and chronicled state repression.

After the Soviet breakup, Dmitriyev found graves containing thousands of bodies of people held in Stalin’s Gulag network of prison camps.

Memorial said the prosecution of the researcher, who was tried behind closed doors, is part of a growing crackdown on dissenters.

Defence lawyer Viktor Anufriyev told reporters outside the court in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk that Dmitriyev was ordered to “three years and six months in a strict-regime penal colony”.

The lawyer said he had not yet received the written verdict and it was possible with time served in pre-trial detention Dmitriyev, 64, could be free in September.

He had been facing up to 15 years under the charges.

Darkest chapters

Anufriyev said the historian had been cleared of pornography charges that stem from his first criminal case.

The researcher was first arrested in late 2016 on child pornography charges, then acquitted in 2018, and then arrested again in a new sexual assault case.

The prosecution claimed the historian sexually abused his adopted daughter, charges he denies.

“There are no doubts that Yury Dmitriyev is innocent,” Memorial said ahead of the verdict. “These charges have already taken away more than three years of freedom from Yury Dmitriyev and crippled the fate of his adopted daughter.”

Supporters, including prominent advocates at home and abroad, say the case against Dmitriyev is an attempt to punish the historian who has called attention to one of the darkest chapters in Russia’s history.

Dmitriyev is known for helping open the Sandarmokh memorial in a pine forest in Karelia in memory of thousands of victims – including many foreigners – killed in 1937 and 1938.

His focus on Stalin’s crimes has become politically untenable in a modern Russia where the dominant state narrative is of a great nation rising from its knees.

His backers say Dmitriyev’s real crime was dedicating himself to documenting Stalin’s 1937-38 Great Terror, in which nearly 700,000 people were executed, according to conservative official estimates.

The Kremlin has said it is not involved in his case. Asked whether it was politically motivated, state prosecutors have said the case is based on real evidence.


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