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Jailed Russian Historian Receives Human Rights And Rule Of Law Prize

Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev (file photo)
Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev (file photo)

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 been named among the recipients of the 2020 Franco-German Human Rights and the Rule of Law prize.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said on December 14 that Dmitriyev was among 13 rights defenders who became laureates this year of the prize established in 2016 by the foreign ministries of France and Germany to honor individuals who have contributed to the defense of human rights in their countries and on an international level.

Dmitriyev, 64, who is the head of the local branch of Memorial in the northwestern Russian region of Karelia, is currently on trial again, this time on a charge of producing child pornography, which he and his supporters also reject as politically motivated.

The high-profile cases against the researcher date back to 2016, when Dmitriyev, who has spent decades researching extrajudicial executions carried out in Karelia under Soviet dictator Josef 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 Stalin's crimes.

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 historian was due to be released because of time served, the Supreme Court of Karelia 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 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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