Russia's Stalin-era graves researcher freed after year in jail

2018-01-28 10:56

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Moscow - Yury Dmitriyev, a respected Russian activist who had researched and exhumed Stalin-era mass graves, was freed on Saturday after spending more than a year in custody for allegedly producing child pornography.

Dmitriyev, who turns 62 on Sunday, thanked his supporters, saying he was grateful to all those who believed in him.

"I understand that it would be difficult for my family and me to win over the system," he said in a video message from home in northwestern Russia, a cigarette in his hand.

"We have not won yet but we've made the major first step," he said in the video.

"Well, what can we do? Weather can be different. I hope that one day there will be normal weather in our country when we won't have to hide under our umbrellas."

His lawyer Viktor Anufriyev earlier told AFP that his client was in "a great mood."

"He knew that we would win someday," he added.

Anufriyev said that Dmitriyev, who lives in the city of Petrozavodsk in northwestern Russia, was not allowed to travel under conditions of his release.

'Taking pornographic pictures'

Dmitriyev had been under arrest since late 2016, accused of taking pornographic pictures of his adoptive daughter.

The historian - who denies the charges - faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Dmitriyev is the head of top rights group Memorial's branch in in the region of Karelia.

He spent decades locating and exhuming mass sites where people had been buried following summary executions during Stalin's rule.

He helped open the Sandarmokh memorial in a pine forest in Karelia in memory of thousands of victims - including many foreigners - executed in 1937 and 1938.

Dmitriyev's supporters say the case against him is an attempt by authorities to muzzle the outspoken historian whose research drew international attention to one of the darkest chapters of Russia's history.

His lawyer said Russian courts rarely move to free the accused from custody, adding that Dmitriyev's release was a sign that the prosecution did not have sufficient evidence for a strong case.

He said the next hearing was expected to take place next month.

'Manmade miracle'

Zoya Svetova, a prominent human rights activist and journalist, wrote on Facebook that the historian's release was nothing short of a "manmade miracle," referring to a huge outpouring of support for him.

A number of prominent figures including Natalia Solzhenitsyna, the widow of the Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and internationally acclaimed novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya had urged the authorities to release him.

Dmitriyev's defence says the photographs were taken to track the health of his daughter following the adoption due to the child's malnourished state.

The pictures had been seized during an illegal search after an anonymous tip to the police.

Rights groups have accused President Vladimir Putin of seeking to whitewash Stalin's crimes amid patriotic fervour whipped up by state propaganda.

Historians estimate about one million people perished in Stalin's Great Purge in the 1930s out of around 20 million who died under his three-decade rule before his death in 1953.

Read more on:    vladimir putin  |  russia

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