On September 30, 2014, a Russian appeals court upheld the conviction for “fraudulent use of government funds,” imposed against Professor Mikhail Savva, a professor of political science most recently at Kuban State University in Krasnodar, Russia, and the Director of Grant Programmes for the Southern Regional Resource Center (SRRC), an NGO that provides programs focusing on inter-ethnic issues and that previously received funding from US-based foundations.
In early 2013, Professor Savva publicly voiced concerns about an unusual increase in the severity and number of government inspections of Russian NGOs, including an operation in March 2013, in which the state security service, FSB, seized documents, computers and information from the SRRC. Scholars at Risk understands that on the morning of April 12, 2013, FSB officers raided Professor Savva’s apartment; seized electronic sources of information, documents, photographs, and reports about international travel and meetings with NGOs; and detained Professor Savva, questioning him about his connections to American organizations, and confiscating photographs of trips he had taken abroad. The arrest occurred three days before Professor Savva was scheduled to discuss his concerns about government inspections of Russian NGOs in an address before the Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.
According to reports, Professor Savva was held, following his arrest, without charge and with limited access to family. His lawyer has reported that in May 2013, investigators interrogated Professor Savva – without counsel present, despite his requests – about his academic work, his connections to international programs, and foreign grants received by the SRRC. Professor Savva remained in custody until December 4, 2013, when he was released and placed under house arrest pending the completion of his trial. Reports indicate that, on April 2, 2014, Professor Savva was formally charged with and convicted of “fraudulent use of government funds” and fraudulently receiving payment from his employer, Kuban State University. He received a three-year suspended sentence with two years’ probation, was fined, and is subject to travel restrictions. On September 30, 2014, an appeals court upheld this sentence. Professor Savva has denied the charges against him.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest, detention and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent scholarly and expressive activity, conduct that is expressly protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a party. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ right to expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, free expression and freedom of association.