Russia: Sentencing and ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr. Yuri Dmitriev

Urgent Appeal

New information
RUS 003 / 0818 / OBS 109.2
Arbitrary detention /
Sentencing / Judicial harassment
Russian Federation
October 2, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing and ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr. Yuri Dmitriev, an historian and representative of “Memorial” International Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society in Karelia, northern Russia.

According to the information received, on September 29, 2020, the Supreme Court of Karelia increased the sentence of historian Mr. Yuri Dmitriev from 3.5 to 13 years of imprisonment. The Supreme Court overturned the Petrozavodsk City Court verdict of July 22, 2020, and sentenced him under Article 132.4(B) of the Criminal Code (“violent actions of a sexual character against a person under 14 years old”).

In addition, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Petrozavodsk City Court for review under the Articles 135.1 and 242.2 of the Criminal Code (“production of child pornography” and “indecent assault without resort to violence against a person under 16 years old”) and article 222.1 (“possession of weapons”), for which Mr. Dmitriev was previously acquitted. If convicted under those additional charges, Mr. Yuri Dmitriev’s 13-year sentence could be extended. The defense will appeal this verdict.

On July 22, 2020, the Petrozavodsk City Court had found Mr. Yuri Dmitriev guilty of “sexual violence” against his adopted daughter, sentenced him to three and a half years in prison, and acquitted him of charges of “possession of weapons”, “production of pornography” and “indecent assault”, in a trial that began on December 18, 2018 (see background information).

Considering the time he had spent in pre-trial detention, Mr. Dmitriev was expected to be released in November 2020. Both the defence and the prosecution appealed the July-22 verdict, with the former seeking Mr. Yuri Dmitriev’s acquittal and the latter seeking a 13-year prison sentence.

Having contracted Covid-19, Mr. Dmitriev’s lawyer could not attend the appeal hearing on September 29, 2020. Despite the requests by the defence, the Court refused to postpone the hearing and Mr. Dmitriev, who was only allowed to attend the hearing via a video-conference call of poor quality, was given an appointed lawyer. Mr. Dmitriev asked to decline the appointed lawyer but the Court waved his request.

On the eve of the trial, renowned media “Novaya Gazeta” published a public petition, signed by over 250 public persons (including historians, journalists, actors and academics) requesting to change the place of the consideration of the appeal in the case of Mr. Yuri Dmitriev from the Supreme Court of Karelia to another Court; the request was, however, rejected by the Court.

The Observatory strongly condemns the new sentencing and the continuing arbitrary detention of Mr. Yuri Dmitriev, which seem to be only aimed at sanctioning him for his legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Yuri Dmitriev, and to put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him and all the human rights defenders in the country.

Background information:

Mr. Yuri Dmitriev has dedicated his life to locating and documenting the remains of victims of Stalinist repressions. In 1997, Mr. Dmitriev was part of a team that uncovered a mass grave in Sandarmokh (north-west Russia), which attracted significant national and international attention, in the form of commemorative actions, but angered Russian officials’ intent on marginalizing Soviet-era crimes. Up until the time of his arrest in 2016, Mr. Dmitriyev had been very active in efforts to memorialize the victims of Soviet-era human rights repressions and documented abuses through exhumations and tireless compilation of archives.

In December 2016, Mr. Dmitriev was charged with child pornography (under Articles 135 and 242.2 of the Criminal Code), for taking naked pictures of his adoptive daughter between 2008 and 2015 when the girl was between two and nine years old. Mr. Yuri Dmitriev claimed in court that the pictures were made to monitor her health. He also faced an illegal arms possession charge for keeping an old hunting rifle in his home.

During the trial that started in June 2017, held in camera, an expert evaluation found the incriminated pictures non-pornographic and a psychological examination of the girl established that Mr. Yuri Dmitriev had caused no harm to his child. The conclusions of the psychiatric examination of Mr. Dmitriev found no paedophile inclinations.

On April 5, 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Mr. Yuri Dmitriyev on child pornography charges but found him guilty on illegal arm possession charges and condemned him to two years and six months of restriction of movement. By the time of the acquittal, he had spent over one year in arbitrary detention.

On June 14, 2018, Karelia’s High Court overturned the ruling, after the Prosecutor’s office reportedly presented a new psychological examination of Mr. Dmitriyev’s adoptive daughter, made after the decision of acquittal. Neither Mr. Yuri Dmitriyev nor his lawyer were notified about the new examination or apprised of the results. The case was simply sent for retrial on the basis of “newly discovered circumstances”.

On June 27, 2018, Mr. Yuri Dmitriev was arrested by traffic police while he was travelling out of Petrozavodsk. He was then placed in pre-trial detention. On June 30, 2018, he was charged with “violent acts of a sexual nature in relation to a person who has not reached the age of fourteen” under paragraph "B" Part 4 of Article 132 of the Criminal Code.

On August 21, 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court extended the pre-trial detention of Mr. Yuri Dmitriev until October 26, 2018. On the following day, Mr. Dmitriev’s lawyer was informed of the completion of the preliminary investigation and was given five days, until August 27, 2018, to get acquainted with the case materials.

On September 11, 2018, the local Ombudsman confirmed that Mr. Dmitriyev was stripped of guardianship rights over his adoptive daughter.

On October 9, 2018, the two criminal cases against Mr. Dmitriev were merged by the Petrozavodsk City Court, and the Prosecutor of Petrozavodsk informed that the pre-trial detention of Mr. Yuri Dmitriev was prolonged.

On December 18, 2018, the new trial against Mr. Dmitriev opened in Petrozavodsk City Court. Mr. Dmitriyev was facing two sets of charges, both related to his adoptive daughter: the first, a referral for the alleged “production of child pornography”, and the second for “violent acts of a sexual nature in relation to a person who has not reached the age of fourteen”.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Russia asking them to:

i. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Yuri Dmitriev as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country;

ii. Put an end any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Yuri Dmitriev, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Russia are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Russian Federation.


· Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 606 3602; + 7 495 625 3581
· Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
· Mr. Sergueï Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 644 2203
· Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail:
· Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail:
· Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Russian Federation in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, October 2, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Tel FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
Tel OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39

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