Russian historian of Stalin-era crimes denied bail amid coronavirus outbreak in jail

MOSCOW, May 7 (Reuters) - A Russian court on Thursday denied bail to Yuri Dmitriev, a historian who angered officials by shining a light on Stalin-era crimes, rejecting calls to free him from custody due to a coronavirus outbreak in his detention facility.

Dmitriev, 64, is accused of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter and making photos of her that prosecutors have called pornographic. He denies the accusations and says he photographed his daughter to monitor her growth because she was unwell.

He was fully cleared of similar charges in April 2018, but that verdict was annulled and a re-trial ordered.

His supporters say they believe he is the victim of a trumped-up campaign of persecution to punish him for having documented the 1937-38 campaign of terror under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Dmitriev uncovered a mass grave containing the bodies of thousands of people who were executed during Stalin's rule.

The European Union, which has said the charges are questionable and that it expects them to be dropped, has urged authorities to release Dmitriev in light of his age, health and the coronavirus outbreak.

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Two inmates at the pre-trial detention facility in the northern city of Petrozavodsk were diagnosed with the coronavirus late last month, prompting Dmitriev's allies to step up calls for authorities to release him.

On Wednesday, more than 150 people including prominent Russian cultural figures signed an open letter on the website of newspaper Novaya Gazeta saying he had recently had a bad cold and that it would be safest for him in terms of health to await the trial's verdict outside of custody.

"We're sure the accusations...are unjust and must be removed during the course of a legal process. But let him wait the court's ruling in safety," it said.

"The risk of serious and potentially fatal complications if he is infected are extremely great for him." (Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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