Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concerns over the fate of Yury Dmitriyev, a Russian historian and human rights activist whose trial on charges of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter -- an allegation he and his supporters deny -- nears its end.
In a July 21 statement, HRW said that the "circumstances surrounding criminal charges" against Dmitriyev "strongly suggest that they are spurious and target him for his human rights work."
On July 7, prosecutors asked a court in Russia's northwestern Karelia region to sentence Dmitriyev to 15 years in prison. A verdict and sentence are expected to be pronounced on July 22.
"Allegations of child abuse should always be taken very seriously, while also protecting the due-process rights of the accused," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
"We are concerned that perfectly appropriate measures to protect the child during the trial may have been misused by the authorities to pursue a prosecution of a human rights defender to smear his reputation."
Dmitriyev was arrested in 2016 on child-pornography charges based on photographs of his adopted daughter that authorities found on his computer.
He has proclaimed his innocence, contending that the images were not pornographic and were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child's development.
Supporters of the 64-year-old, who is also the head of the Karelia branch of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, have said the charges were brought against him because of his research into a side of history that complicates the Kremlin's glorification of the Soviet past.
Dmitriyev's decades-long efforts to expose the extent of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's crimes have been viewed with hostility by the government of President Vladimir Putin.
In May, dozens of Russian scholars, historians, writers, poets, opposition politicians, artists, and actors signed an open letter asking the Karelia Supreme Court to release Dmitriyev, expressing concerns over the researcher's health as coronavirus infections have been found in the detention center where he is being held.
The European Union has called on the Russian authorities to release Dmitriyev and reconsider the charges against him.
A local court acquitted Dmitriyev in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court subsequently upheld an appeal by prosecutors and ordered a new trial.
The historian was rearrested in June 2018 and is currently on trial on the more severe charge of "violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age."