Historian Yury Dmitriev was sentenced to more than three years in prison by a Russian court on Wednesday, his lawyer said.
After being acquitted of child pornography charges in 2018, Dmitriev was arrested again for sexually abusing his adopted daughter. He has denied such allegations.
But while sentenced to a “strict-regime penal colony,” defense lawyer Viktor Anufriyev told reporters outside the courthouse, Dmitriev’s time in pre-trial detention could free him by September.
The historian’s supporters saw his arrest as punishment for exposing the horrors of Joseph Stalin‘s regime.
Dmitriev’s rights group, Memorial, has been targeted by Russian authorities for years. Its work centers around uncovering mass graves filled with victims of Stalin’s secret police.
Memorial is responsible, in particular, for finding and identifying thousands of people buried in the Sandarmokh forest in Karelia, a peninsula in northern Russia.
Such work revealing the scope of Soviet horrors has prompted state media to vilify the group as unpatriotic traitors over the years.
It is hardly surprising, then, that its leader may spend the next few years behind bars.
Russia’s Crackdown on Press Freedom
For critics and truth-tellers like Dmitriev, Russia is one of the world’s most repressive countries. On the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, it ranked 149th out of 180 countries.
Arrests are only one way in which Vladimir Putin‘s regime stifles criticism. Independent media frequently sustains physical attacks and hawk-eyed investigations as well.
The government passed a law in 2019 allowing authorities to cut Russia’s internet from international servers. While ostensibly needed for functionality and cybersecurity, the law allowed the government to filter what the Russian public could access online.
Intense pressure can lead to occasional lapses in severity. Last year, dubious drug charges against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov were dropped amid domestic and international outrage. Such incidents, however, are the exception rather than the rule.
And this is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially since Putin himself will likely be Russia’s leader for the foreseeable future. A recent election – which some critics denounced as illegitimate – saw voters overwhelmingly approve of constitutional reforms allowing Putin to remain in power until 2036.
If he does, he will become Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin himself. He has already served since 2000.