Yuri Dmitriev

The Russian authorities must uphold Yuri Dmitriev’s right to a fair and impartial trial, PEN International, St Petersburg PEN and PEN Moscow said today, ahead of a verdict expected by the end of the year.

Yuri Dmitriev, historian and head of the Karelian branch of the human rights centre Memorial, North-Western Russia, stands accused of sexual abuse of a child and child pornography regarding his foster daughter, and of illegally possessing components of a firearm, in a case that human rights groups in Russia say is fabricated and politically motivated. The Russian authorities have repeatedly targeted Memorial in recent years, which has been labelled a ‘foreign agent’ since 2014.  Dmitriev faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

‘In light of the heinous nature of the charges, alongside concerns that they may be applied as a means of penalising Dmitriev for his work for Memorial, fair and transparent criminal proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal are of the utmost importance. This is to ensure a fair trial for Dmitriev on the one hand and, on the other, a judicial examination upon which the victim and society at large can rely to unearth the truth and to attribute guilt, if warranted, through due process’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Yuri Dmitriev was arrested on 13 December 2016 and charged with making pornographic images of his adopted daughter under Article 242.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (use of a minor for the production of pornographic materials or objects) and possessing an illegal firearm. He denied the charges, saying that the purpose of the photographs was to monitor the health of the child for social services. He spent more than a year in pre-trial detention.

On 5 April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court, in the capital of the Republic of Karelia, cleared him of the child pornography charges but sentenced him to two years and six months of probation (three months after deducting time spent in custody) and community service for illegally possessing components of a firearm.

On 14 June 2018, the Karelian Supreme Court overturned his acquittal. Dmitriev was subsequently charged under Article 132.4 of the Russian Criminal Code (violent acts of a sexual nature in relation to a person who has not reached the age of fourteen) and underwent enforced psychiatric testing. The European Union expressed concern that Dmitriev was being targeted for his work, and called on the Russian authorities to release him immediately and drop the caseagainst him.

Both criminal cases against Dmitriev were merged in October 2018. The first hearing in the new case against him was held in Petrozavodsk on 19 October 2018. He remains in detention.

‘St Petersburg PEN has been documenting the Dmitriev case from the onset, notably monitoring trial proceedings. We fear that the prominent Memorial activist is being punished for his work unearthing the truth about the Stalin-era purges. His right to a fair trial is of paramount importance and we urge the Russian authorities to uphold it’, said Elena Chizhova, Executive Director of St Petersburg PEN.

Additional information

Yuri Dmitriev, 63, devoted his life to locating the execution sites of Stalin’s Purges and identifying its victims. As head of the Karelian branch of the human rights centre Memorial, he played an important role in the discovery and investigation of the killing fields of Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor and their transformation into memorial complexes. Although local authorities attended memorial events at the beginning, attitudes are changing, with the Russian authorities glorifying the Soviet past after Vladimir Putin stated in 2017 that the ‘excessive demonisation of Stalin is one of the ways to attack the Soviet Union’.

Yuri Dmitriev is an honorary member of St Petersburg PEN.

For more information about the state of freedom of expression in Russia and the case of Yuri Dmitriev, please see PEN International, PEN Moscow and St Petersburg PEN’s joint report entitled Russia’s Strident Stifling of Free Speech 2012-2018.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org