Urgent Interventions

Russia must quash wrongful accusations against human rights defender Yuri Dmitriev

UPDATE - On July 22, 2020, human rights defender Yuri Dmitriev was sentenced to 3,5 years in penal colony. Petrozavodsk City’s Prosecutor had requested 15 years of prison against him. He should be released in September due to the time he has already served.

Paris-Geneva-Moscow, July 21, 2020 - One of the most high-profile and protracted political processes in recent years is coming to an end. The verdict in the trial of renowned historian of Soviet repression and human rights defender Yuri Dmitriev is expected tomorrow afternoon, following oral hearings held on July 8 by Petrozavodsk city court. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC Memorial) consider that the trumped-up criminal charges against him originated in the government’s desire to silence the undeniable evidence of Stalinist terror that Dmitriev has exposed by documenting the names of 6,241 people executed in Sandarmoh.

Mr. Yuri Dmitriev, a researcher of Soviet repression and head of the Karelian regional office of the International Historical, Educational, Charitable and Human Rights Society “International Memorial”, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

In 2016, Mr. Dmitriev was accused of production of child pornography (under articles 135 and 242.2 of the criminal code) based on five photos of his adoptive daughter that he made to monitor her health fragilised by years in an orphanage. In July 2017, HRC Memorial concluded that the criminal case against him was fraudulent and recognised Dmitriev as a political prisoner. Dozens of Russian public figures, international and Russian human rights organisations, including Nobel Prize winners in literature Gertha Mueller and Svetlana Alexievich, as well as Goncourt Prize winner Jonathan Littell, have since supported his case. They all believe that the Russian authorities seek to slander Yuri Dmitriev in retaliation for his more than thirty years devoted to studying the history of the Gulag in Karelia.

"Today, the truth about the past does not fit into the official concept of history, as the Russian authorities promote a distorted historical legacy in an attempt to justify modern-day acts of state terror", claims Oleg Orlov, Member of the Board of the International Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society "Memorial" (International Memorial).

Mr. Dmitriev has made a considerable contribution to the discovery of mass graves of victims of the Stalinist terror in Sandarmoh, establishing the names of 6,241 people who were executed there. Since then, people from Russia and other countries annually participate in commemoration ceremonies held in this place. Nowadays, political repression has once again become part of modern Russian daily life. Therefore, the State fiercely opposes all efforts to preserve the memory of the past political terror.

The Observatory and HRC Memorial are deeply concerned about the criminal case against Mr. Dmitriev, which is taking place alongside attempts by the Russian Military Historical Society to rewrite the history of the Sandarmoh Memorial Cemetery. The human rights defender’s work to restore the historical truth about Stalinist terror goes against authorities' efforts to rehabilitate Stalinism.

We believe that the case against Dmitriev is a hideous and hypocritical manifestation of the state's manoeuvres to deny Russians the right to truth and to craft a legacy aiming to justify state terror”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

“The wrongful accusations against Yuri Dmitriev must be quashed. Mr. Dmitriev and all other arbitrarily detained human rights defenders in Russia should be immediately and unconditionally released”, concluded the two organisations.


The case against Yuri Dmitriev was fabricated back in December 2016. After an anonymous letter to the prosecutor's office, his apartment was searched, and he was charged with production of child pornography, “indecent assault without resort to violence” against a minor, based on five photos, that have never been displayed or shared with anyone, found on his computer, and illegal possession of weapons. On April 5, 2018, the Court acquitted Mr. Dmitriev of all charges except for possession of weapons and sentenced him to two years and six months of liberty restriction. However, the prosecutor's office appealed the acquittal, and on June 14, 2018, the Supreme Court of Karelia completely overturned it. On June 28, 2018, the investigative committee initiated a new criminal case on charges of sexual violence against a person under 14 years old, under paragraph B Part 4 of Article 132 of the criminal code. These two cases were merged, and a second trial against the 64-year-old began on December 18, 2018.

The trial is now closed, and observers and the press are not allowed to attend the hearings. Mr. Dmitriev has already spent over three years in detention – from December 2016 to February 2018 and from June 2018 to the present. On July 8, after the Petrozavodsk city court held oral hearings, the prosecutor's office requested 15 years of imprisonment against him. The verdict in his case will be announced on July 22, at 2:30 pm.

Press contact:

· FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan (English, French), +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Email: (Paris)

· OMCT: Ms. Iolanda Jaquemet (English, French), +41 79 539 41 06 / Email: (Geneva)

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 intervene 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.