‘Living is never easy.’ An Open Letter on the Case of the Historian Yury Dmitriev

28 September 2020

Before the verdict in the trial of Yury Dmitriev was announced, an open letter was published in Novaya gazeta calling for the trial to be moved to another region of Russia over concerns about the lack of impartiality of the Supreme Court of Karelia.

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [ original source: Novaya gazeta]

To the chair of the Supreme Court of the Repulic of Karelia
Anatoly Vladimirovich Nakvas

Dear Anatoly Vladimirovich!

For three and a half years courts of various levels in the Republic of Karelia have been hearing the case of the historian Yury Alekseevich Dmitriev who discovered the mass graves of the victims of Stalinist repressions at Sandarmokh. These legal proceedings and their outcome are being followed, without exaggeration, by tens of thousands of people in Russia and around the world.

Dmitriev’s prosecution, it will be recalled, has been based on an anonymous denunciation and a certain ‘written opinion’ by the Karelian art critic Sergeev, based on the denunciation and on two photographs of Dmitriev’s adopted daughter from his personal computer and obtained by the Investigative Committee no one knows how.

The unlawfulness of these actions and the absurdity of the charges brought against the historian for disseminating pornography and indecent assault on his underage adopted daughter at first left no doubt that the criminal charges against Dmitriev had no perspective and would be dropped. But the prosecution went ahead. We assume that those law enforcement agencies that were not happy with Dmitriev’s civic stance, and the enormous work Yury Alekseevich had done to commemorate the memory of the victims of Stalinism, were behind this move.

Despite all the pressure, the judge sitting in Petrozavodsk City Court (Judge Marina Nosova) fully acquitted Dmitriev of the ‘serious’ charges. But then a new, much more serious charge was brought against him of committing sexual violence against a child. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia annulled the acquittal and sent the case for a retrial.

And then the unbelievable happened – Petrozavodsk City Court (Judge Aleksandr Merkov) acquited Dmitriev for a second time of these same charges, and on the new charge he gave a punishment far below the lower limit. This – we all understand well – once again speaks to the innocence of Yury Dmitriev but at the same time the impossibility of acquitting him in full because of unprecedented pressure on the court by those who cannot forgive the historian his investigations of the Gulag past.

Two acquittals on the most serious charges clearly show there were no grounds either for the criminal prosecution or, all the more, for Dmitriev to have been remanded in custody, something on which the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia had insisted each time. This gives us grounds to believe that the court was not impartial then and will be simply unable to hand down a just ruling judgment now.

The appeal is being heard by Judge Alla Ratz, who has previously twice extended Dmitriev’s detention on remand. Everything that is happening in this trial gives us reason to doubt the objectivity of the judge’s judgment and, moreover, to assume that pressure is being put on the judge.

How else can the following facts be explained:

Instead of waiting for Dmitriev’s defence lawyer, V. M. Anufriev, to leave quarantine (he had notified the court he was unable to attend the hearing), the judge immediately introduced a court-appointed lawyer into the proceedings and ruled that the new lawyer had three working days to familiarise themselves with the case.

Is it possible to study so many documents, evaluations, decisions and sentences in three days?

Of course not.

Should the appointed lawyer be able to meet with their client?

Not only should, but absolutedly must. But he did not do this.

This is how Yury Alekseevich writes about this himself in a letter to his friends of 23 September:

“I loudly and clearly, on the record, announced that I refused the appointment of a lawyer. As predicted, my loud and clear refusal was ignored by the court. In the evening, I repeated it again in writing.

“My humble request to allow me into the courtroom in person was completely rejected by the court. Yet one other ‘little request’ I made was to ask the court to order a medical examination of my hearing: I don’t always hear or understand everything the judge says in the courtroom. I miss about 40% of what is said. This is not good for the defence. The judge politely asked if I had any medical documents to prove my hearing loss. No, I said. If there are no documents, then the request is refused, the judge said.

“The ‘local staff’ here are already fed up with me going on about this problem. They brought in extra speakers but they don’t work. I am always asking what has been said. The judge gets angry and threatens to have me removed from the room.

“I remind the court every time that I have been left to deal with my legal questions alone, in effect without legal representation. This annoys the judge, to put it mildly.

“What should I do? Living is never easy.”

Pray tell, how is it even possible that in such an important case, in the Supreme Court of the Republic, the sound system was not working or worked badly, and the defendant has in fact been left without a competent defence lawyer?

And how is it possible that there has suddenly been a fresh evaluation by experts of the photographs in the case concerning pornography in which Dmitriev has been TWICE acquitted? Surely it cannot be that the numerous examinations at the Serbsky Institute, a hospital in St. Petersburg that specialises in psychiatry, which have proved the complete absence of ‘paedophile’ thoughts and sexual deviations in Dmitriev’s behaviour and were accepted by the courts of first instance mean nothing at all for the court of appeal? Just as the opinions of specialists on photography, among whom were employees of the State Hermitage Museum, PhDs and senior academics, who saw nothing pornographic in the photos, mean nothing at all?

Out of concern for the lack of impartiality of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia in the case of Yury Dmitriev, we ask you, Anatoly Vladimirovich, to refer this case to be heard in any other region or republic of the Russian Federation.

And to those who began this whole dirty business, we would like to say only one thing: it is possible to ruin the life of historian Dmitriev, his adopted daughter and all his loved ones, but it is impossible to destroy or take away the historical truth.

This truth will survive under all circumstances and will make itself known.

For a list of signatories, see here.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Leave a Reply