Russia spares Gulag historian long jail term, but convicts him of sex charge

PETROZAVODSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court found a historian guilty of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter on Wednesday, but said he would be freed in November, a verdict his lawyer and supporters disputed saying it was based on a fabricated case to punish him for his work.

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

State prosecutors had sought a 15-year jail term for Yuri Dmitriev, 64, a historian who has unearthed Stalin-era mass graves and chronicled state repressions.

The court in northwest Russia sentenced him to three and a half years. That means he will be released in a matter of months because of time already served, a prospect welcomed by supporters.

But though acquitted of other charges, the ruling, likely to be appealed by his lawyer, leaves him convicted of a serious crime he says he did not commit.

Memorial, a rights group where Dmitriev works, said the accusations were groundless and that the sentence, though milder than prosecutors had sought, was not fair.

“These charges have already taken away more than three years of freedom from Yuri Dmitriev and crippled the fate of his adopted daughter,” Memorial said in a statement.

A first trial in 2018 cleared him of charges of child pornography involving his adopted daughter. But that ruling was annulled and he was arrested on a new charge shortly afterwards.

Fellow historians, rights activists and some leading cultural figures say Dmitriev was framed because his focus on Stalin’s crimes has become politically untenable in a modern Russia where the dominant state narrative is of a great nation rising from its knees.

They say his real crime was dedicating himself to documenting Stalin’s 1937-38 Great Terror, in which nearly 700,000 people were executed, according to conservative official estimates.

Dmitriev found a mass grave after the Soviet breakup containing thousands of bodies of people held in Stalin’s Gulag network of prison camps.

The Kremlin has said it is not involved in his case. Asked whether it was politically-motivated, state prosecutors have said the case is based on real evidence.

Editing by Andrew Osborn