Yury Dmitriev: “I must have really stepped on someone’s toes…”

30 September 2020

The day after the toughening of the sentence handed down to historian Yury Dmitriev, a laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights prize, from three and a half to 13 years, MBKh Media correspondent Zoya Svetova received a letter from him. MBKh Media is publishing this letter, along with Zoya Svetova’s interview with Dmitriev’s lawyer, Viktor Anufriev and comments by Sergei Krivenko, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and of the Board of the International Memorial Society. 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: МБХ-медиа]

Zoya Svetova: “I am sure that Yury Dmitriev is innocent.”

I wrote to Yury Dmitriev on Monday, the day before his appeal was heard by the Supreme Court of Karelia. I wrote about how extremely painful all trials are, as his own prosecution has been, and as all trials in which innocent people are prosecuted are painful. And I am sure that Yury Dmitriev is indeed innocent.

I wrote about not knowing what will come of this court hearing, but that, no matter how it ends, for me, as an Orthodox Christian, as a believer, it is clear that God sends trials and tribulations according to people’s strength. I wrote that I still have hope, and that I believe that we will perhaps see each other soon, as according to the verdict of the court of first instance, Dmitriev was supposed to be released in November 2020.

Here is what Yury Dmitriev wrote to me in response:

Hello, Zoya! It seems we won’t be seeing each other soon after all. Just now (less than an hour ago), the Supreme Court of Karelia sentenced me to 13 years in a strict regime penal colony, and also sent all of the charges on which I was acquitted to be reviewed in a new trial. Is it sad??? No! It makes perfect sense. I must have really stepped on someone’s toes… But it’s fine – we will continue fighting. I don’t intend to give up the struggle. Nor to ‘kick the bucket.’ But I am worried for Katya [his eldest daughter]. Well, I hope she’ll be able to cope and that she’ll take the news calmly. I believe victory will be ours. God sends trials to those he loves (and only to match their strength). I am a believer – I must meet God’s expectations.

Hello to everyone, and I wish everyone success in their work and struggles.

Y. A. Dmitriev, 



Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev: “This is just an outrageous decision”

The appeal hearing in the Supreme Court was held without the lawyer Viktor Anufriev who has been Yury Dmitriev’s defence counsel since 2016. Anufriev was unable to attend the trial for good reason: he had contracted coronavirus and was under quarantine.

In a telephone interview with MBKh Media, Anufriev said that during the trial at the Supreme Court of Karelia he was in constant contact with Dmitriev’s court-appointed lawyer after the court  refused to wait for him to recover.

How can you explain that the Supreme Court of Karelia ‘overturned’ the verdict of Petrozavodsk City Court, thus going against the general rule that in high-profile cases courts of first instance always obtain approval for their sentences from those above?

Viktor Anufriev: I have no idea. This only indicates that this myth did not work in this case. I understand the court of first instance did not coordinate its actions with the higher court. The court’s decision shows that the court acted independently and made its decision as it saw fit.

On what grounds did the Supreme Court of Karelia take such a strong stance on the side of the prosecution? Was it because of the new assessment of the photos of his adopted daughter, which the prosecutor’s office considers pornographic contrary to the decision of the Petrozavodsk court which acquitted Dmitriev on this charge?

Viktor Anufriev: It is difficult for me to say, I have not seen the court decision. But you yourself understand that it is ridiculous to talk about any new assessment: the case lasted for three years, an investigation, court hearings, so many experts, so many specialists. And here, in three days, they presented some kind of ‘new’ assessment. This is just a fake. I do not even want to think about this assessment. But it has nothing to do with the law. I called for the court to resile itself because it was obvious to everyone, even to non-lawyers, that the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia is incapable of handing down a lawful, well-founded judgment in the case.

Why was it obvious?

Viktor Anufriev: I have set out my arguments in the statement I sent to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia. In my opinion there were no legal grounds for the first quashing of the acquittal in July 2017. Someone simply took the decision to quash it. And this was actually confirmed by the second acquittal in this case [the sentence of the judge sitting in Petrozavodsk City Court in the summer of 2020 was three and a half years’ imprisonment – MBKh media]. And now – this is just an outrageous decision. Probably, it is impossible to find another such decision in the practice of the Russian courts. I believe that in this case there is no bad without good, because such a cynical attitude to both the law and the person of Yury Alekseevich cannot stand up in a higher court that seeks to uphold the law.

What is the next step?

Viktor Anufriev: This is the third court of cassation in St. Petersburg. Then you can still file a cassation appeal to the Russian Supreme Court. You could file a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. But in our case, the Prosecutor’s Office, let’s say, has served as a tool of retribution. Once we have studied everything, we will make a cassation appeal and send it to St. Petersburg. Dmitriev will be tried for the third time on the charges brought against him in his first trial.

When might the third trial in the Dmitriev case begin in Petrozavodsk?

Viktor Anufriev: The question is problematic. All the materials related to different charges have been combined into one case. And that is why the evidence which is relevant to the first case is in the materials of the second case. According to the law, the entire case must go to the court of cassation [in St. Petersburg – MBKh Media]. And that includes yesterday’s verdict and the verdicts that have been cancelled [the acquittals. – MBKh Media]. That is why, probably, first we will have to go to cassation and try to change the decision of the Supreme Court of Karelia. But if it goes to the court of first instance, we will have to go there [to Petrozavodsk City Court – MBKh Media].

 The Cassation Court has the right to annul all the decisions of the Supreme Court of Karelia?

Viktor Anufriev: Yes. The problem is that earlier the cassation could not increase a punishment, it could only return a case for a new trial. But since then amendments were made to the Criminal Procedural Code.

In other words, earlier in cassation procedure it was impossible to worsen the situation of the accused, but now it is possible?

 Viktor Anufriev: Yes.

 Did you expect such a development?

Viktor Anufriev: When I met with Yury Alekseyevich back in September, preparing for the appeal, we prepared in advance a statement calling for the disqualification of the panel of judges, because one of the members of the panel had previously extended the pre-trial custody of Yury Alekseyevich. And the methods of her work were known to us. And on the first day of the hearings in the Supreme Court of Karelia, Yury Alekseyevich submitted a petition for the panel to be disqualified. They refused. Secondly, you must have read what Yury Alekseevich wrote in his letter: he became somewhat deaf in the pre-trial detention centre, could hear nothing at the trial and kept on asking what was being said, for which he was sharply admonished and was all but removed from the hearing. All this was written in his statements. But they received no attention whatsoever. In addition, I requested that the case be returned to Petrozavodsk City Court, because I was not familiar with the record of the hearings; this request was also refused. As they say, we were steamrollered.

As I understand it, there were so many procedural violations when considering the appeal that good lawyers would consider there is enough material to cancel this decision.

 Viktor Anufriev: It remains to find good lawyers. You mean the judges?

I mean the St. Petersburg Court of Cassation.

 Viktor Anufriev: Yes, God willing, I hope they all these local circumstances will mean little to them. This court was invented in order to make decisions on its own. It seems to have been working recently, and it makes quite a lot of independent decisions. But if it leaves everything as it is, then these structures, it turns out, are not needed at all.

Sergei Krivenko: “This is nothing more than the security services imposing their view of the matter on the courts.”

Unlike lawyer Viktor Anufriev, Sergei Krivenko (a member of the board of the International Memorial Society and of the Moscow Helsinki Group) has taken the side of the Karelian historian from the very start of his criminal prosecution, and is more categorical in his assessments of the Supreme Court of Karelia’s decision:

I think this is a game being played form various ‘sides.’ In the city court, let’s say, the lawyer managed to outplay the security officials, calling on a bunch of witnesses, experts and specialists, using procedural rules to force the court to make the correct ruling in both the first and second trials, because the prosecution presented absolutely no evidence of Dmitriev’s guilt, not a single shred of evidence. The experts said in court that the photographs are not pornographic in nature, nor is there any evidence in the materials of the case of violence against the girl. That is why at the second trial, the sentence handed down was lower than the lower limit – three and a half years for “violent acts of a sexual nature”. At the same time, Petrozavodsk City Court used the ruling of the Plenum of the Supreme Court in its decision, which recommends that courts class any non-violent actions “of a sexual nature” committed against a child class as “other actions of a sexual nature.”

As for the decision of the Supreme Court of Karelia, there is evidence that the individuals from the security forces behind this conviction could have pulled some strings and influenced the judges to pass a completely unfair and wrong decision. Think about it: there were two trials in the “Dmitriev case”, each of which lasted a year and a half. But here, in two days, with a government-appointed lawyer, a decision of this kind was handed down on the basis of no one knows what grounds. This is nothing more than the security services imposing their view of the matter on the courts.

Translated by Cameron Evans, Simon Cosgrove and James Lofthouse

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