The Petrozavodsk city court in the province of Karelia on the border with Finland found Yuri Dmitriyev guilty on charges of sexual misconduct toward his underage adopted daughter, which he denied. The prosecutors have asked for a 15-year prison sentence for the 64-year-old Dmitriyev. The sentence means he is set to walk free in November as it includes the time he already spent in pre-trial custody, his lawyer said.
In view of the gravity of the accusations, the unexpectedly soft verdict appears to reflect the controversy surrounding the charges and international criticism of the case. The widely respected Memorial human rights group, for which Dmitriyev worked, said in a statement that the sentence reflected the complete lack of evidence against him.
Memorial and other rights organizations have dismissed the charges against him as revenge for his efforts to expose Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's crimes. In the late 1990s, Dmitriyev, a self-taught ethnographer who led the Memorial's branch in Karelia, discovered a mass grave in the woods that was full of skulls with holes in them. During the next two decades, he worked relentlessly to research and document Stalin-era political purges in the region.
With archive studies and expeditions in the woods, Dmitriyev sought to locate the burial sites of victims of mass executions and identify and commemorate them. He eventually turned the previously unmarked killing field in Sandarmokh into a memorial where relatives of the dead could pay their respects.
Dmitriyev’s supporters have asserted that his work has angered the authorities, supposedly including some influential members of KGB successor agencies.