Person of the Week: Yury Dmitriev

Week-ending 24 July 2020

Yury Dmitriev

On Wednesday, 22 July 2020, historian and human rights defender Yury Dmitriev, former head of the Memorial organisation in Karelia who discovered mass graves of political prisoners executed during the Stalin era, was found guilty of ‘violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age’ [his adopted daughter], charges that Dmitriev and his supporters reject. While prosecutors had asked for him to be sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, he was sentenced to a term of three and a half years. The court dismissed other charges of making pornographic materials, sexual misconduct, and illegal weapon possession against Dmitriev. Taking into account time held on remand, Dmitriev should be released in November.

On Tuesday, 21 July 2020, the eve of the announcement of the verdict in a Petrozavodsk court in the trial of historian and human rights defender Yury Dmitriev, Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying that ‘the circumstances surrounding criminal charges’ against Yury Dmitriev ‘strongly suggest that they are spurious and target him for his human rights work.’ The same day, the International Federation For Human Rights issued a statement urging the Russian authorities to quash the ‘wrongful accusations’ against Yury Dmitriev: ‘The Observatory and HRC Memorial are deeply concerned about the criminal case against Mr. Dmitriev, which is taking place alongside attempts by the Russian Military Historical Society to rewrite the history of the Sandarmoh Memorial Cemetery. The human rights defender’s work to restore the historical truth about Stalinist terror goes against authorities’ efforts to rehabilitate Stalinism. “The wrongful accusations against Yuri Dmitriev must be quashed. Mr. Dmitriev and all other arbitrarily detained human rights defenders in Russia should be immediately and unconditionally released”, concluded the two organisations.’

On Tuesday, 21 July, Meduza published Dmitriev’s closing statement to the court that had been delivered on 8 July 2020 but not published until now. In part it reads: ‘I don’t know if it’s for better or worse, but my path is to return from oblivion those people who perished because of our state. They were unjustly accused, shot, and buried in the woods like stray animals. There’s nothing indicating that people are buried here. The Lord gave me this cross to bear, maybe, but the Lord also gave me this knowledge. I have managed, not often but sometimes, to find the locations of mass human tragedies. I match them to names and I try to make room for memory in this space because memory is what makes a person a person.’

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