A regional appeals court has intervened to add ten years to a jail term currently being served by an outspoken historian of Stalinist crimes — thereby blocking his imminent release.
Yury Dmitriyev, 64, was sentenced to three and a half years in July for what he and his supporters dismiss as trumped-up sex charges. Already in poor health, Mr Dmitriyev will be 74 by the time he will be released, six years past the average male life expectancy in Russia.
The July sentence, a fraction of the 15 years requested by prosecutors, was considered to be a reflection of the flimsiness of their case. In Russian terms, it felt like an acquittal as it counted the amount of time he had already served since his first arrest in 2016.
Today’s decision is not the first time Karelia’s Supreme Court has intervened to overturn “incorrect” decisions concerning Mr Dmitriyev. In April 2018, a court acquitted the researcher over earlier sex crime charges, only for that decision to be reversed three months later.
Prosecutors applied new sexual assault charges, and the trial began once again.
Mr Dmitriyev’s colleagues say the tortuous legal proceedings have been designed to discredit his legacy as a researcher of Stalinist crimes.
The amateur historian was the driving force behind the 1997 discovery of Krasny Por and Sandarmokh, two burial sites dating from the Great Terror of 1937-38. He made it his life work to document the victims of this dark period.
In the early years, the state allowed researchers like Mr Dmitriyev to go about their work unhindered. Indeed, they even funded his annual memorial events in Sandarmokh. But as the years went on, and Russia faced international isolation, especially post-Crimea, Mr Dmitriyev’s work began to fall foul of state ideology.
From 2015, local authorities withdrew support for his memorial events. In 2019, a local official suggested they had created an “unfair sense of guilt” that was “being used by foreign powers against Russia.”