Yury Dmitriev, the 67-year-old former head of the Karelian branch of Memorial (an NGO devoted to restoring Russia’s historical memory) is serving a 15-year sentence in a high-security penal colony. Radio Free Europe and Memorial have both drawn attention to how the officials at the colony have tried to interfere with Dmitriev’s preparations for a court hearing that took place on Thursday.
The hearing had been scheduled in connection with Dmitriev’s complaint about unlawful disciplinary measures in prison. He filed the complaint after spending more than a month in a penal cell. (The maximal legal term of punishment in a “ShIZO” is 15 days.)
Dmitriev needs reading glasses, not only to read books, but also to review court documents. Since his old glasses had been broken, he asked his lawyer to bring him a new pair. But when the new glasses arrived, the colony refused to admit them as a “medical parcel,” insisting that Dmitriev must sign for one of the four packages of up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) that he’s entitled to annually, under the law. This deprives him of vital aid from the outside that Russian prisoners rely on and spend months waiting for.
“I didn’t want to sabotage the court hearing,” Dmitriev said, “and so I had to agree to the 40-pound eyeglasses.”
Dmitriev was convicted for alleged sexual exploitation of his preschool-age adopted daughter. In April 2018, the court dismissed the charges for lack of evidence, but that decision was later overturned by the Karelian Supreme Court. In December 2021, a Petrozavodsk court sentenced Dmitriev to 15 years in a high-security colony. Russia’s NGOs and independent media are in a consensus that Dmitriev is a victim of a fabricated case, and is in reality a political prisoner, persecuted for his investigations into the Soviet-era killings of innocent Karelians.
In a comment on the parcel incident, Memorial said this is clearly “a new form of tormenting a stubborn inmate who dares to speak up for his rights.”