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Russian Court Upholds Decision To Extend Detention Of Prominent Gulag Historian

Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev
Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev

PETROZAVODSK, Russia -- A court in Russia has upheld a lower-court decision to extend the detention of Yury Dmitriyev, a Russian historian and prominent Gulag researcher, who is being tried on charges of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, which he and his supporters deny.

The Supreme Court of the northwestern region of Karelia on May 7 rejected Dmitriyev's appeal and remanded him in custody at least until June 25 while his trial continues behind closed doors.

A lower court extended Dmitriyev's detention until June 25 in late March.

Dmitriyev's supporters 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.

The 64-year-old heads the Karelia branch of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, whose decades-long efforts to expose the extent of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's crimes have met with opposition from the government of President Vladimir Putin.

On May 6, 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 cases of coronavirus infection 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.

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. He says the case is an attempt to thwart his research into extrajudicial executions in Karelia under Stalin.

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" -- again referring to his adopted daughter.