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Jailed Russian Historian Dmitriyev Goes On Trial Again

Historian Yury Dmitriyev (center) is the head of the local branch of the Memorial human rights organization.
Historian Yury Dmitriyev (center) is the head of the local branch of the Memorial human rights organization.

PETROZAVODSK, Russia -- Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a controversial child sexual-abuse charge that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated, has gone on trial on a new charge of producing child pornography.

The Petrozavodsk City Court in Russia's northwestern region of Karelia began the hearing on November 24 behind closed doors, citing coronavirus measures.

Last week, Karelia's Ombudsman Gennady Sarayev said that investigators claim that they found pornographic films on Dmitriyev’s computer and have decided to charge the noted gulag researcher with producing child pornography. Dmitriyev has already been acquitted on a similar charge in the past.

Sarayev said on November 18 that Dmitriyev, who is also the head of the local branch of the Memorial human rights organization, faces up to an additional 10 years in prison if found guilty.

The high-profile case dates back to 2016, when Dmitriyev, who has spent decades researching extrajudicial executions carried out in Karelia under Stalin, was arrested on child-pornography charges based on photographs of his foster daughter that authorities found on his computer.

Dmitriyev said the images were not pornographic and were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child’s physical development.

He was acquitted in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court upheld an appeal by prosecutors and ordered a new trial. He was rearrested in June 2018 and charged with the more serious crime of sexual assault against a minor.

After that trial he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in July on a conviction for “violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age.” He has rejected the case and believes he is being targeted because of his research into the crimes of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Prosecutors, who had asked for 15 years in prison in the high-profile case, said the original sentence was "too lenient" and appealed it. Dmitriyev's defense, meanwhile, insisted their client was innocent and also appealed the case.

On September 29, weeks before the 64-year-old historian was due to be released because of time served, the Karelia Supreme Court accepted the prosecutors' appeal and added another 9 1/2 years onto Dmitriyev's sentence.

Dozens of Russian and international scholars, historians, writers, poets, and others have issued statements in support of the scholar, while the European Union has called for Dmitriyev to be released.

Dmitriyev’s research has been viewed with hostility by the government of President Vladimir Putin. Under Putin, Stalin has undergone a gradual rehabilitation, and the Russian government has emphasized his leadership of the Soviet Union while downplaying his crimes against the Soviet citizens.

Under Stalin, millions of people were executed, sent to labor camps, or starved to death in famines caused by forced collectivization. During World War II, entire ethnic groups were deported to remote areas as collective punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis.

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