A Russian historian who has spent much of his life unearthing Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s crimes has been jailed in a controversial sexual abuse case.
Yury Dmitriyev was sentenced to three and a half years for abusing his fostered daughter.
He denies the accusations and his colleagues say he was framed in a plot to discredit his work.
The government of President Vladimir Putin has sought to downplay the extent of Stalin-era violence.
Dmitriyev, who has uncovered execution sites from the Great Terror in the 1930s, is expected to be freed later this year due to time already served.
His supporters received the verdict with relief and applause as he was given a much shorter prison term than the 15 years requested by the prosecution, BBC Russian’s Oleg Boldyrev reports from Petrozavodsk.
What is the background to the case?
Dmitriyev was accused by the prosecution of engaging in “child pornography”. He was first detained in December 2016 after an anonymous tip-off.
When police searched his flat, they found images on his computer of his daughter, some of them naked.
A charge of non-violent sexual abuse of a minor was added the following year, as well as illegal possession of firearm parts.
Dmitriyev said the photos were taken to document the child’s growth in case of problems with social services as she had been emaciated when the couple fostered her.
In 2018, he was cleared of all but the firearms charge, but the regional Supreme Court overturned the verdict two months later based on an investigator’s interview with his daughter, then 12 years old, shortly after he was acquitted.
The case was returned to court with an additional sexual abuse charge, relating to inappropriate touching.
However, linguistic experts cited in court have suggested that investigators pressured the girl during questioning over an incident some years before.
The allegation is believed to relate to a documented medical condition.
On Wednesday, defence lawyer Viktor Anufriyev told reporters outside court that the judge found Dmitriyev guilty of sexual assault. He was cleared of all other charges.
In May, more than 150 Russians, including artists, actors and writers wrote an open letter to the court in support of the historian, saying they were “sure the accusations… are unfair and should be dismissed by the court”.
As good as not guilty for supporters
This was the second time Yury Dmitriyev had stood trial and he, his family and even Russian rock stars have always insisted the charges are false.
Once again, he’s been found not guilty of creating sexual images of his foster daughter. But he has been convicted of a new charge – of sexual abuse.
The suspicion has always been that this case is about the past: blackening the image of a historian who has worked to unearth the mass graves of thousands of people executed in remote, northern Russia – during Josef Stalin’s political repressions in the 1930s.
Plenty of powerful people here would prefer such uncomfortable evidence left buried, especially as Vladimir Putin’s Russia has raised the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany to cult like status – and Stalin was commander-in-chief then.
In fact, officials, including historians from the Russian Military Historical Society, have started to claim that the site at Sandarmokh – where Dmitriyev and his team had spent years recovering human remains and documenting the identity of more than 6,000 people executed – actually contained the remains of murdered Red Army prisoners-of-war, not political prisoners of the Stalin-era repressions.
Dmitriyev’s supporters say the fact the judge sentenced him to three and half years – not the 15 the prosecution wanted – is as good as a “not guilty” verdict, in Russia’s justice system.