July 22, 2020 / 4:08 AM / 16 days ago

Russian court to rule in trial of historian who found Stalin-era graves

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court is set to deliver its verdict on Wednesday in the closed-door trial of a historian accused of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, a case his lawyer says was fabricated to punish him for documenting Stalin-era crimes.

FILE PHOTO: Historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was on trial on charges of involving his adopted daughter in child pornography, of illegally possessing components of a firearm, and of depravity involving a minor, speaks with people after a hearing outside a court building in Petrozavodsk, Russia April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Vladimir Larionov/File Photo

State prosecutors have asked the court to jail Yuri Dmitriev, who denies wrongdoing, for 15 years. The 64-year-old was cleared of similar charges in 2018, but that ruling was annulled and he was arrested on a new charge the same year.

Wednesday’s verdict will also be handed down in camera.

Viktor Anufriev, Dmitriev’s lawyer, told a news conference this month that his client had done nothing wrong. In June, he wrote on Facebook that Dmitriev was being tried and held on trumped-up charges.

Rights groups and other supporters believe the case is politically motivated and that Dmitriev has been targeted for his work exposing state repression that took place under dictator Josef Stalin in 1937-38.

They say his work is no longer welcome in a modern Russia where the dominant state narrative is of a great nation rising from its knees.

After the Soviet breakup, Dmitriev found a mass grave containing thousands of bodies in the forest of Sandarmokh in northwest Russia dating from the Stalin-era Great Terror. He has worked to identify individual victims.

The Kremlin has said it is not involved in the case. Asked about whether it is driven by politics, state prosecutors have said it based on real evidence.

The European Union has said the charges against Dmitriev are questionable, and human rights advocates have campaigned for Dmitriev’s release since he was arrested in 2016 on child pornography charges also involving his adopted daughter.

He was acquitted of those charges in 2018, but the supreme court in the Karelia region overturned the ruling after an appeal by the prosecution and state investigators opened a new criminal case into suspected sexual assault.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and John Stonestreet

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