In Russia Russians honour Stalin victims, urge activist's release

Russians gathered in central Moscow on Sunday to honour the victims of Stalin-era purges, as many called for the release of a jailed activist who researched mass graves.

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Hundreds of Russians are set to take turns during the day to read from a list of names of people killed during Joseph Stalin's rule play

Hundreds of Russians are set to take turns during the day to read from a list of names of people killed during Joseph Stalin's rule

(AFP)
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Russians gathered in central Moscow on Sunday to honour the victims of Stalin-era purges, as many called for the release of a jailed activist who researched mass graves.

In an annual ceremony organised by the country's oldest rights organisation Memorial, hundreds of people are set to take turns during the day to read from a list of names of people killed during Joseph Stalin's rule.

This year's ritual will take place near the Solovetsky Stone, a monument in Lubyanka Square, across from the former KGB headquarters.

The ceremony comes as Yury Dmitriyev, a respected activist and head of Memorial's Karelia branch in northwestern Russia who had researched and exhumed mass graves of victims of Stalin's Great Terror, is still held in custody.

"Freedom to Yury Alekseevich Dmitriyev," said one participant at the ceremony.

"Is history repeating itself?" asked another.

The 61-year-old activist was arrested last year and accused of producing pornography, which he denies. Dmitriyev now faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

His supporters say the case against him is an attempt by authorities to muzzle the outspoken historian.

Rights groups have accused President Vladimir Putin of seeking to whitewash the Soviet dictator's crimes amid patriotic fervour whipped up by state propaganda.

Sunday's ceremony, called "The Return of Names", also holds a special resonance this year as Russia gears up to mark the centenary of the 1917 Revolution which brought Bolsheviks to power and unleashed repression against people of all walks of life.

Participants ranged from older Muscovites to young mothers with prams and even children, all reading from the victims' list.

"Pyotr Ivanovich Markov, 57, priest at a church in the village of Malakhovka, executed on February 21, 1938."

"Dmitry Aleksandrovich Samgin, 19, a history student at the Moscow State University, executed on December 10, 1937."

"Yan Yanovich Kovalsky, 40, watchmaker, executed on November 18, 1930."

Some attendees, clearly emotional, added their own personal tributes.

"My uncle, my mother's brother, Nikolai Grigoryevich Gurvich, 29, executed in 1938," said one female participant, adding that he worked at a factory in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.

"During the years of terror, more than 40,000 people were executed in Moscow alone," Memorial said.

The ceremony came ahead of Monday's Day of Remembrance for victims of political repression established by Boris Yeltsin in 1991.

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