On January 16, 2018, the Levada Center, a leading independent research and polling center, announced that it would suspend the publication of polling data related to the March 2018 Russian presidential election, citing potential government retaliation.
The Levada Center, founded in 2003 by prominent Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, is one of the primary independent sociological research institutions in Russia, with a focus on political and electoral polling. According to a Reuters report, it is described as the only polling institution “not to be close to the authorities.”
In 2016, Russia’s Ministry of Justice declared that the Levada Center would be required to register on Russia’s foreign agent list, which includes NGOs engaged in “political activities” that receive foreign funding. The decision, which was later appealed, requires the center to identify itself as a “foreign agent” in public materials.
Center officials cited fears that publication of polling results, as a state-described “foreign agent,” might bring potential legal repercussions. These could range from fines to being forced by the government to shut down, for allegedly “meddling” in the election as a foreign agent. The center stated that it would hold off on publishing results until after the election.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about pressures on an independent research center in apparent retaliation for its research activities and collaboration with and support from foreign entities. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of association, so long as those activities are undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Actions aimed at limiting research and collaboration harm academic freedom and undermine society generally.