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“I love you with all my heart”: Russian Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriyev's final word in court

Despite repeated forensic analysis to the contrary, this Russian historian has spent 13 months in pre-trial detention on child pornography charges. 

lead 27 March. Yuri Dmitriyev outside Petrozavodsk City Court. Image: Natalia Shkurenok. On 27 March, the final hearing was held in the prosecution of Russian historian and rights defender Yuri Dmitriyev. Dmitriyev, who has been instrumental in investigating Karelia’s Gulag past, was arrested in December 2016 and charged with producing child pornography, the evidence for which consisted of naked photographs of his adopted daughter.

Yesterday, Dmitriyev was given the right to make a final statement before the court, after which the judge left to make a decision. The doors of Room 322 at Petrozavodsk City Court remained closed for 10 minutes. As Yuri Dmitriyev told the people waiting outside afterwards, instead of a long speech in his defence, he read a short letter from his adopted daughter Natasha.

“Dear Dad, I really miss you! I hope that they release you soon. Everything is fine with me, I’m studying well. I wish you a belated happy birthday! How are things with you? Write when you can. I love you with all my heart, your daughter Natasha.”

Dmitriyev presented this touching letter, written on a scrap of paper from a children’s notebook and decorated with tiny hand-drawn hearts, to the judge. It was written in February 2017, when Yuri Dmitriyev was still being held in pre-trial detention centre. He was detained in December 2016 on charges of making pornographic images of his adopted daughter.

The trial of Yuri Dmitriyev has lasted nearly nine months, and is based on an anonymous statement to Karelian law enforcement, as well as forensic analysis by the Moscow Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis (which is known for making statements in favour of law enforcement). For instance, the centre has performed analyses of Pussy Riot’s “Punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, as well as the actions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, recognising both as “extremist”. Ultimately, the defence managed to have the analysis of the “suspicious” photographs analysed a second time. On this occasion, St Petersburg’s Federal Department of Independent Forensic Analysis, an organisation chosen by the prosecution, examined the images — and found that the photographs were not pornographic, that Dmitriyev did not pursue sexual aims in taking them, and that the photographs were made to monitor Natasha’s physical health.

27 March: Yuri Dmitriyev with defence counsel Viktor Anufriyev. Image: Natalia Shkurenok. Immediately after this new analysis was attached to the case, Petrozavodsk prosecutor Elena Askerova requested a new analysis of the images.

This involved an in-depth forensic psychiatric examination of Dmitriyev himself, as well as the photographs themselves, in Russia’s leading psychiatric institution, the Serbsky Institute. At the end of January 2018, the court released Dmitriyev under a commitment that he would not leave the country. Several days later, the Serbsky Institute’s analysis was presented to the court: Dmitriyev was recognised as mentally sound, without any sexual abnormalities, and that the photographs did not contain any criminal elements.

“He has no sexual abnormalities. The report clearly states that he is not a paedophile”

“The report says that, like all of us, Dmitriyev is a slightly odd person, but perfectly sane,” said Dmitriyev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriyev in January. “He has no sexual abnormalities. The report clearly states that he is not a paedophile. He didn’t take the photographs with those aims in mind. He was trying to protect himself from having his adopted daughter taken away. He didn’t do anything harmful to the girl, nor the Russian state.”

Speaking yesterday, Anufriyev stated: “Through the whole trial, my client and I have insisted on his innocence, and we believe that the court will treat our conclusions with the necessary attention. Without even talking about the opinion of Russia’s leading specialists.”

Nevertheless, on 20 March, Petrozavodsk Prosecutor’s Office, without examining the two analyses of Dmitriyev’s mental health and the photographs in question, stated that he was guilty of all charges and requested nine years of strict regime.

At the final court hearing, the judge announced that the decision will be announced on 3 April. Yesterday, after the hearing, Viktor Anufriyev stated that the exact date of the verdict is unknown, and that the defence is hoping that it will be delayed.

 

About the author

Natalia Shkurenok is a Saint-Petersburg based journalist, writing for The New Times, Snob, Colta, ArtNews Paper and Novaya Gazeta.

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