PETROZAVODSK, Russia — Prosecutors have asked a court in Russia’s northwestern Karelia region to sentence Yury Dmitriyev, a Russian historian and human rights activist, to 15 years in prison on charges of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter — an allegation he and his supporters deny.
The prosecution argued its case in Petrozavodsk City Court against the 64-year-old head of the Karelia branch of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial as the high-profile trial entered its final stage on July 7.
Supporters of Dmitriyev, who is also a renowned gulag researcher, have said the charges were brought against him because of his research into a side of history that complicates the Kremlin’s glorification of the Soviet past.
Dmitriyev’s decades-long efforts to expose the extent of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s crimes have been viewed with hostility by the government of President Vladimir Putin.
In May, dozens of Russian scholars, historians, writers, poets, opposition politicians, artists, and actors signed an open letter asking the Karelia Supreme Court to release Dmitriyev, expressing concerns over the researcher’s health as cases of the coronavirus have been found in the detention center where he is being held.
The European Union has called on the Russian authorities to release Dmitriyev and reconsider the charges against him.
Dmitriyev was arrested in 2016 on child-pornography charges based on photographs of his adopted daughter that authorities found on his computer.
He has proclaimed his innocence, contending that the images were not pornographic and were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child’s development. He says the case is an attempt to thwart his research into extrajudicial executions in Karelia under Stalin.
A local court acquitted Dmitriyev in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court subsequently upheld an appeal by prosecutors and ordered a new trial.
The historian was rearrested in June 2018 and is currently on trial on the more severe charge of “violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age.”