A former museum director who has conducted research at a mass grave containing the remains of thousands of people shot under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin has been convicted of having sex with a minor and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Sergei Koltyrin, who was convicted and sentenced along with co-defendant Yury Nosov on May 27 by a court in the Karelia region town of Medvezhegorsk in northwestern Russia, is the second historian involved in research at the Sandarmokh mass grave site to be prosecuted on charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of minors.
The trials have raised suspicion that the authorities are seeking to silence Russians who labor to uncover evidence of Stalin's crimes.
Koltyrin and Nosov, who were arrested in October and tried behind closed doors, were both found guilty of corrupting an underage boy and having sex with an underage boy. Nosov was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The convictions came as the second trial of historian Yury Dmitriyev, who discovered and began documenting the Sandarmokh site in the1990s, continues behind closed doors in the Karelian capital, Petrozavodsk.
Dmitriyev heads the Karelia branch of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, whose decades-long efforts to expose the extent of Stalin's crimes have met with opposition under Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Dmitriyev was arrested in 2016 on child-pornography charges based on photographs of his foster daughter that authorities found on his computer.
He proclaimed his innocence, contending that the images were not pornographic -- but were meant to document the girl's development after his family took her in because of concerns about her health -- and that the charges were intended to interrupt his work investigating Stalin-era crimes.
The Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriyev in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court 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 daughter.
Koltyrin, who had been director of a local history museum in Medvezhegorsk museum since 1991, last year publicly criticized excavations being carried out around Sandarmokh by the Russian Military-Historical Society, which is headed by Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.
Koltyrin and other critics contend that the new excavations, which are aimed at finding possible graves of World War II Red Army soldiers who were allegedly executed as prisoners of war by the Finnish military, are intended to revise the significance of the site and downplay Stalin's crimes against his own people.
Under Putin, Stalin's image has been steadily rehabilitated to emphasize his role in industrializing the country and leading it to victory over Nazi Germany while downplaying the purges, forced collectivization, mass political repressions, deportations, and labor camps that characterized his decades in power.
Putin has accused Russia's critics of using the "excessive demonization" of Stalin "to show that today's Russia carries some kind of birthmarks of Stalinism."
Koltyrin and Nosov declined to comment to journalists following the hearing on May 27. A former lawyer for Koltyrin has said that the historian was pressured to renounce his services and use a state-appointed lawyer instead.