lenient condemnation for historian Yuri Dmitriev


One of the most important trials of recent years in Russia ended, Wednesday, July 22, in a difficult way, with a surprisingly lenient verdict, visibly delivered for the sake of appeasement, even to save the face of a justice which will have shown an unusual determination.

Found guilty of sexual violence against his adopted daughter, historian Yuri Dmitriev was sentenced to “only” three and a half years in prison. In view of the seriousness of the charges, the conviction is unusually light. The prosecutor had claimed fifteen years.

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Yuri Dmitriev, who is 64 and has already spent more than three years in pre-trial detention, is expected to be released from prison in November. For many of his supporters, who came to support him in court in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia, this conviction is an acquittal that does not speak its name, even if it leaves it attached to the infamous label of pedophile and the will probably prevent seeing her adopted daughter again for a long time. If a judicial reversal is still possible, it is indeed a relief, bitter, that it is.

Emblem of Putin Russia

This half-hearted verdict, as tailor-made, sounds above all like confirmation for those, many, who have always denounced fanciful and politically motivated prosecutions. Since 2016, justice will never have raised the original suspicion, that of a procedure directed not against the man Yuri Dmitriev, but against the public figure who became, through his research in the archives, by his excavations in the forests of Karelia, the symbol of the fight against the burial of the memory of Stalinist repressions and the Gulag.

This highly publicized affair had even become an emblem of Putin’s Russia, combining the omnipotence of the security services, justice with orders and, above all, a memorial obsession raised to the rank of state policy.

For, before being associated with the charge of pedophilia, the name of Yuri Dmitriev was associated with one of the most important places of the Stalinist Great Terror, Sandarmokh. About 9,000 people were shot in 1937 and 1938 and buried in 236 mass graves in this forest on the shores of Lake Onega. These anonymous victims were brought out of the oblivion to which they were intended by the determination of Mr. Dmitriev and a few others.

At the head of the local branch of the NGO Memorial, the amateur historian was going to lead a double task from the end of the 1980s: work on the archives, first, to give a name to each of the executed. , find the documents relating to each murder, each executioner; rough and painful fieldwork, then, who saw the man, with a long beard and the look of a monk-soldier, tirelessly digging the earth to unearth the bodies of the mass graves, assemble the thousands of bones scattered in the ground.

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