John Crowfoot: Accusations of child sex abuse - and the political subtext in the Dmitriev case

posted 23 Oct 2017, 07:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2017, 07:41 ]
23 October 2017

By John Crowfoot

Photo of Yury Dmitriev

As the Dmitriev trial got under way, journalist Maria Eismont concluded an article about the case ("Dmitriev should be a State-Prize nominee", Russian Reader website, 6 June 2017) with the following words:

"There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with ‘extremism’ or ‘separatism,’ which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. ‘What if something really did happen?’ Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are in a clear minority, such people do exist, and some of them are ‘decent’ people.

"The number of ‘paedophilia’ cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometres southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good nurse Yevgeny (Zhenya) had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.

"'Paedophilia' cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases."

Charges of paedophilia or, rather, the threat of such accusations, were very occasionally used against dissidents in the Soviet period, but a search through the Chronicle of Current Events or the USSR News Brief turned up only one case. (Many if not most such threats, naturally, may never have come to light.) Recently, an attempt was made to pressurise rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov by claiming he had child pornography on his confiscated computer (see Under Attack, 2016, fn 105).

The prosecutions covered by Eismont over the past five years follow a different pattern. Typically, they are disputes between separated couples which, at some point, lead to doubtful accusations of child sex abuse. Common features of several cases described by Eismont are that the child was drilled by one side to repeat allegations of sexual abuse that under examination proved false and were subsequently denied by the child itself. More disturbing is that no matter what the evidence the accused was nevertheless found guilty and sentenced to the minimum 8-years' imprisonment for such an offence.

In the Dmitriev case neither the prosecution nor, naturally, his daughter Natasha have presented any evidence of ‘depraved actions’ on the part of her adoptive father. The concern remains that the overwhelming tendency of Russian courts to convict (in 99% of judge-only cases), and the precedent of seemingly automatic guilty verdicts whenever the sexual abuse of minors is alleged, may yet lead to Dmitriev's conviction sometime before mid-January next year.

On the other hand, the evidence and arguments presented in Petrozavodsk City Court by expert witnesses for the defence over the past five months may yet create useful precedents concerning the validity of evidence cited in such cases. In this respect also there is everything still to play for in the prosecution of Yury Dmitriev for child pornography and sexual abuse of a minor.

Sources: Articles by Maria Eismont
"The case of Vladimir Makarov, 'paedophile'",
Radio Echo Moskvy [R], 28 November 2011
"The Production of Paedophilia",
Snob magazine [R], 14 December 2015
"Male nurse Yevgeny Yefimenko found guilty of paedophilia",
Bizbi: News from Naro-Fominsk [R], 28 September 2017