Next question ‘Meduza’ talks to the lawyers involved in historian Yuri Dmitriev’s case
On September 29, the Karelian Supreme Court considered an appeal in the case of historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev. The court ended up overturning his previous three and half year sentence and sentencing him to 13 years in prison. This decision is unprecedented, even among Russian courts — the historian’s defense lawyer has already announced plans to challenge the verdict. Meanwhile, human rights defenders and Dmitriev’s colleagues are calling the sentence the “system’s revenge” for his research on the Soviet Gulag. In a (not so successful) attempt to discuss the political dimension of Dmitriev’s case, Meduza spoke to his defense lawyer, Viktor Anufriev, and attorney Igor Perov, the representative for the victim in the case, Dmitriev’s foster daughter.
The case began back in December 2016, when police raided Dmitriev’s home, discovering nude photographs on his computer of his then 11-year-old foster daughter. Following the search, Dmitriev was charged with producing child pornography, sexual abuse, and illegal possession of a firearm.
In April 2018, a court acquitted Dmitriev on two of the charges and sentenced him to three and a half years in prison for illegally possessing a firearm. Karelia’s Supreme Court overturned the ruling two months later and returned the case to prosecutors, who promptly brought new charges against Dmitriev for sexually assaulting his foster daughter. The court sentenced Dmitriev to three and a half years in prison. The rights group Memorial has declared Dmitriev a political prisoner.
Viktor Anufriev, Yuri Dmitriev’s lawyer
Asked what he thinks about the Karelian Supreme Court’s verdict, Yuri Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev says “it’s still difficult to give a comment.” As he explains, the court has yet to release the official text of the verdict. Moreover, Anufriev wasn’t at the appeal hearing; a suspected case of COVID-19 kept him in “mandatory self-isolation” instead.
With Anufriev forced to self-isolate, Dmitriev was assigned a lawyer from the Karelian Bar Association by designation just five days before his appeal hearing. He tried to refuse the new representative, but the court wouldn’t change its decision. Attorney Artem Cherkasov — who ended up with just three business days to familiarize himself with the 19 volumes that make up Dmitriev’s case — later claimed that Anufriev attended another hearing on September 29. Asked to comment on these claims, Anufriev tells Meduza: “This doesn’t mean anything for us anyway. Next [question]!” According to Anufriev, he and Cherkasov maintained communication “as needed” (he had previously told Kommersant that he was involved in Dmitriev’s case remotely, but didn’t want to comment on his degree of interaction with Cherkasov).
Asked if he understands why the court handed Dmitriev a prolonged sentence, Anufriev says it wasn’t unexpected: “I foresaw this and therefore challenged the entire Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia. It wasn’t only me, as you may know, the public asked to transfer [the case] to another constituent entity of the [Russian] Federation. Because the outcome of the case was obvious to everyone, even to [people who] aren’t lawyers. Next question.”
To follow-up, Meduza asked if Anufriev was alluding to political motivations behind Dmitriev’s case. “I’m not answering that question,” the defense lawyer says in response.
Asked to comment on the leaked photos of Dmitriev’s foster daughter from the case file (which first appeared on social media and were later shown on state television just days before the appeal hearing), Anufriev claims that he hasn’t seen the photos in question. “I haven’t seen these photos. But if they did emerge, that’s sad. Because in any case, these aren’t the actions of the defense, you understand,” he says.“This is whipping up public opinion, of negative attitudes towards Dmitriev. I would say whoever posted them committed an offense.” That said, he doesn’t feel that airing these photos on television could have influenced the Supreme Court’s decision.
Anufriev hasn’t spoken to Yuri Dmitriev since the appeal hearing — “I couldn’t speak with him because he’s in Moscow and I’m in Petrozavodsk,” the lawyer says. But he has no doubt about what he’s going to do next. Asked if he plans to appeal the latest verdict, Anufriev responds with just one word: “Naturally.”
Igor Perov, the lawyer representing Dmitriev’s foster daughter
“The appeal verdict established social justice in the current criminal case,” says lawyer Igor Perov, when asked how he feels about the Karelian Supreme Court’s most recent ruling against Dmitriev.
Like the prosecutors working on Dmitriev’s case, Perov also challenged his previous sentence of three and a half years in prison. But even though that verdict has been overturned, he says “there’s still a lot of work to do.” “It’s too early to say whether we are satisfied with the results or not. I brought the results of the trial to my client,” he explains.
In Perov’s opinion, the Karelian Supreme Court gave Dmitriev a harsher sentence because the punishment handed down during the indictment was “unjust.” As such, he sees the 9.5 years added to Dmitriev’s prison term as an attempt to right a wrong: “It rarely happens that a court imposes a three year and six month punishment for a particularly serious crime without any grounds for mitigating [circumstances]. The decision that the appeals court made was probably not only normal, but [also] fair and objective.”
Perov also agrees with the court’s decision to overturn Dmitriev’s acquittal on felony charges of producing child pronography, sexual abuse, and illegal firearm possession. “Perhaps, in this situation, the court understood the substance of our complaints and the prosecutor’s appeal, investigated the case, and made a legal, well-founded decision.”
Asked about the photos from the case file that leaked online, Perov refuses to comment, saying “The prosecutor’s office is dealing with this issue.” But he rejects the notion that the leaked materials could have influenced the Karelian Supreme Court’s decision. “The court makes a decision independently in the deliberation room, without the influence of other individuals, on the basis of the evidence that’s in the case file. Everything that happens in the media sphere is, as you know, for the public, to convince people who are not familiar with the case materials,” he insists. “As such, I have nothing to do with these publications. I won’t talk about the photographs, I repeat once again — this is the prosecutor’s business.”
Update. On September 30, Yuri Dmitriev commented on the Karelian Supreme Court’s most recent ruling in a letter addressed to MBX Media columnist Zoya Svetova. In the letter, Dmitriev says he has “no intention of folding his hands” or “giving up the ghost.” “I believe victory will be ours. God tests the ones he loves […] I’m a believer — I must live up to the Lord’s expectations,” he said.
Summary by Eilish Hart