PETROZAVODSK, Russia -- The trial of Yury Dmitriyev, a Russian historian charged with sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, has started in the northwestern region of Karelia.
Speaking to reporters outside Petrozavodsk City Court after the trial began behind closed doors on December 18, defense lawyer Viktor Anufriyev said that Dmitriyev maintained his innocence.
Supporters of Dmitryev contend that he is being victimized by Russian authorities who want to keep the state crimes of the Soviet era under wraps.
"Yury Alekseyevich [Dmitriyev] refused to accept guilt...and that is my position as well," Anufriyev said.
He said prosecutors have provided no convincing evidence against his client.
Dmitriyev, 62, is the chief of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial's branch in Karelia, which border Finland. He has worked for decades to expose crimes committed in the region by the Soviet state under dictator Josef Stalin.
Dmitriyev has overseen research at the Sandarmokh mass-burial site, where several thousand victims of Stalinist terror were executed and buried in 1931-41.
Supporters contend that said the case was brought against him because he exposed a side of history that complicates the Kremlin's glorification of the Soviet past.
Dmitriyev was charged in July with "violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age."
The trial that began on December 18 is the second one Dmitriyev has faced this year.
The historian spent 13 months in custody before he was acquitted of child-pornography charges in early April, in a trial he also dismissed as politically motivated.
An appeals court in Karelia overturned that verdict two months later, sending the case back to prosecutors for further investigation.
Dmitriyev was rearrested on June 27 on the new, more severe sexual-assault charge.
After the hearing on December 18, Anufriyev said the court prolonged Dmitriyev's detention in jail until March 25.
It is not clear when a verdict is expected.