SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 24, 2018

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Gnessin Russian Academy of Music

Region & Country:Europe | Russia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 24, 2018, Russian state authorities and a university administrator reportedly intimidated and threatened legal action against Sofya Kardash, a student at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music (GRAM), in an apparent effort to deter her from participating in protest activities.

Kardash (“Софья Кардаш”) reportedly participated in a series of protests denouncing Russian pension reforms and called for Russia’s president to step down. Reports indicate that authorities arrested Kardash on October 6, 2018, in connection with her participation in one of the protests. About one week later, GRAM’s vice-rector asked Kardash to stop attending the protests.

On December 24, the vice-rector reportedly contacted Kardash again and asked her to meet at his office. Kardash agreed. Upon her arrival, she was met by the vice-rector, and two other men. One of the men said he was a police officer, while the other did not identify himself; neither presented identification. According to Kardash’s account, which she shared over social media two days later, the vice-rector locked the door behind her when she entered and said that the two men wanted to speak with her and that it “[would be better] to cooperate with them.”

During their conversation, the vice-rector and the two men allegedly questioned Kardash about her participation in protest activities and urged her to quit the protest movement. They further threatened her with fines for unknown crimes should she continue to participate in the protests. Kardash allegedly refused to comply with their demand and declined an offer by the vice-rector to discuss these matters again in an informal setting. After roughly forty minutes, Kardash was allowed to leave.

As of this report, it is unclear whether Russian authorities or the university have taken further action against Kardash.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about efforts by state and university authorities to intimidate a student in connection with nonviolent expressive activity—conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a party. State and university authorities have an obligation to refrain from interfering in the exercise of such rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and democratic society generally.