The UK government has called on Russia to immediately end the imprisonment of historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev.

Ambassador Neil Bush brought up Dmitriev's case at the October 8 meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Dmitriev's sentence to 13 years at "a high-security penal colony" had resulted from "a politically-motivated prosecution" carried out because of the historian's human rights activities, the ambassador said. He noted that Dmitriev had not been allowed to choose his lawyer and ended up with someone "who was unfamiliar with the case."

Human Rights in Russia

The ambassador noted that Russia's government had made commitments to the OSCE regarding human rights and one human right was the right to a fair trial.

He also said that considering Dmitriev's health and the ongoing pandemic, "a strong humanitarian case" could be made for allowing the historian to leave the penal colony.

The ambassador recalled that the UK government had previously brought Dmitriev's situation to the attention of the OSCE Permanent Council on May 21, 2020, and July 16, 2020. The ambassador added that his government was "deeply concerned" by the recent lengthening of Dmitriev's prison sentence from 3.5 years to 13 years.

'Not a typical historian'

On October 7, The New York Review of Books website published "Yuri Dmitriev: Historian of Stalin's Gulag, Victim of Putin's Repression" by Olivier Rolin. The author said he had twice met with Dmitriev and received "invaluable" help in preparing a documentary and a book about communist repression victims in the Soviet Union.

Rolin said the focus of Dmitriev's research had been the victims of Stalinist repression who had been buried in unmarked mass graves in the province of Karelia, which borders Finland.

According to Rolin, Dmitriev dated the start of his historical research to 1989, when a mechanical digger accidentally unearthed human bones.

Dmitriev set out to arrange proper burials for the remains, Rolin said. In 2002, the historian published The Karelian Lists of Remembrance, containing information about 15,000 people buried in Karelia's mass graves, Rolin recalled.

Dmitriev was "not a typical historian," Rolin observed, noting that the 64-year-old historian appeared weak and undernourished.

With his beard and long gray hair, Dmitriev looked like "a cross between a Holy Fool and a veteran pirate," Rolin said.

The accusation was a 'fabrication'

Dmitriev was arrested and eventually sentenced to 13 years in prison for sexually attacking his adopted daughter, Rolin recalled, calling this accusation "a fabrication." "Stalin's heirs" wanted people to believe that Finland had actually killed the victims of Karelia during World War II, and that was the real reason for Dmitriev's imprisonment, Rolin said. In the Russia of Vladimir Putin, those in power would stop at nothing to re-write history, he said.