Serbsky Institute dismisses insane charges in Russia’s trial of historian of the Terror Yury Dmitriev
Russia’s Serbsky Institute has rejected any grounds for the charges against Yury Dmitriev, renowned historian and Head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society. Even an institute notorious for its use of punitive psychiatry in Soviet times was not willing to take part in the politically motivated attempt to imprison Dmitriev for up to 15 years and stated clearly that the historian “is not a paedophile”. The result comes after Dmitriev spent 13 months in detention on charges that aroused concern far beyond his native Karelia.
Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev reported from the Petrozavodsk Court on February 27 that the court had examined the results of the expert assessment and had put questions to Dmitriev himself. “The results indicate that, like all of us, he is a person who’s a bit strange, but healthy. In terms of sexuality, it is directly stated that he is not a paedophile, and that the photos of his adopted daughter were taken for a different purpose. He had not done anything that was harmful for the little girl,” Anufriev explained.
This is not the end, although Dmitriev has, since the end of January, been released from detention. The trial, however, is continuing, with the next hearing scheduled for 14 March, with that to be followed by the court debate. A verdict could be passed by the end of March.
Courts in Russia, especially in such ‘political trials’, do not act independently, as the ‘trials’ of many Ukrainians illegally arrested in Russia or in occupied Crimea, have shown. On the other hand, there have now been two formal expert assessments, as well as testimony from recognized experts, with all rejecting the charges against Dmitriev. The fact that he has been released from custody may indicate a decision from higher up to not pursue this latest trial that has been very widely condemned.
Yury Dmitriev was arrested on 13 December 2016 and charged with ‘preparing pornography involving a minor’ (Article 242.2 of Russia’s criminal code) and ‘depraved actions with respect to a child under the age of 11’ (Article 135). The charges related solely to nine photos from a folder filed on Dmitriev’s computer containing a much larger number of photos of his adopted daughter Natasha. The little girl had been painfully thin and in poor health when he and his former wife took her from the children’s home when she was three, and the authorities had themselves advised him to monitor her development. Each of the photos, taken between 2008 and 2015 therefore recorded her weight and height, and were essentially a medical journal which Dmitriev had stopped keeping in 2015 since there were no longer any concerns about the child’s health. It was logical that she should have been naked since that showed whether her ribcage was protruding, etc. It also ensured that the authorities could see that she was well-looked after and that there were no suspicious bruises. There had never been any complaints or criticism from the childcare service.
As has often been the case with political trials involving Ukrainians, the prosecution added a separate charge of illegal possession of a weapon over part of a rifle barrel, which Dmitriev had found among rubbish and taken so that it didn’t get picked up by children.
The ‘trial’, held behind closed doors, began in June 2017, with the prosecution claiming that the fact of having taken the photographs constituted the ‘depraved action’ and that the photos themselves count as ‘pornography’. No attempt had been made to think up an aim for this supposed ‘preparation of pornography’, and there was no evidence that the photos had ever been circulated to anybody.
The charges were, in fact, substantiated only by a first ‘official assessment’ of the photos, provided by a mathematician, a teacher and an art historian. Even they only managed to ‘find pornographic elements’ in nine of the photos.
On June 22, Dr Lev Shcheglov, the President of the National Institute of Sexology, was questioned at the trial. He was categorical that none of the photographs in the Dmitriev file were pornographic. The same conclusion was reached by other experts called by the defence. Two Moscow specialists – Grigory Shayanov and Fyodor Katasonov – also confirmed that it was common practice in Russia to take photographs for such medical purposes.
A second formal assessment was ordered, though the court agreed to prosecutor Yelena Askerova’s demand that it be only of the nine photos, which the defence insisted was an attempt to present the photos out of context.
Viktor Anufriev was almost certainly right that the plan was to obtain an ‘expert assessment’ which reiterated the findings of the first, but that the publicity over this case made it harder to find people willing to put their signature to such a document. The Federal Department of Independent Forensic confirmed everything that Dmitriev himself has said from the outset. The experts found nothing pornographic about the photos Dmitriev had taken of his foster-daughter. They saw no sexual intent in the photographs, only the aim to monitor the child’s physical condition.
Now the Serbsky Institute has reached the same conclusion.
Yury Dmitriev is well-known far beyond Russia for his work in uncovering the mass graves of victims of the Terror at the Sandarmokh Clearing (Karelia), and also in identifying not only the victims, but also the perpetrators of the Terror. Dmitriev’s daughter, Kateryna Klodt, is not alone in believing that the charges brought against her father are directly linked with his work, and because “the children of those who once executed or imprisoned people, now hold office”. There have been calls from historians, writers and others in Russia, from Ukraine, Poland and other countries for an end to this squalid attempt to discredit a world-respected historian and the Memorial Society.