On June 14, 2019, St. Petersburg State University (SPBU) administrators expelled Lukas Latz, a visiting graduate student, in apparent retaliation for his academic activity and ordered him to leave the country.
Latz is a German national and a master’s student of East European studies at the Free University of Berlin writing a thesis on environmental movements in Russia. In August 2018, Latz enrolled as a visiting student at St. Petersburg State University, in Russia, in part to conduct research for his thesis.
As part of his academic research, Latz reportedly visited the cities of Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg in March 2019 to interview local environmental activists opposing the expansion of mining activity in the region. In April 2019, Jungle World, a leftwing weekly newspaper in Germany, reportedly paid Latz one hundred euros to publish an article in which he examined how activists in both cities had organized in opposition to the business interests of local oligarchs in the mining industry. Latz has claimed that he used some of the interviews he had conducted in Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg for his thesis research to write the article for Jungle World.
On May 28, police reportedly entered Latz’s apartment in St. Petersburg and informed him that his interviews with activists in Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg constituted illegal journalistic activity that violated the terms of his visa. Police issued told Latz to pay two fines of 2,000 rubles each (roughly $63 USD total). Latz then agreed to sign documents signifying that he admitted his guilt and would agree to pay the fines. The next day, university administrators at SPBU summoned Latz, and reportedly asked him to sign a statement, backdated to August 2018, stating that he understood that violations of Russian law could result in his expulsion from SPBU. Latz reportedly signed the document.
At the beginning of June, Latz reportedly travelled to Russia’s Arkhangelsk region to conduct thesis research on a separate environmentalist movement. On June 14, one week after his return from his research trip, SPBU officials reportedly informed Latz via email that he had been expelled and that he had to leave Russia within seven days. Administrators at the university reportedly initially refused to tell Latz the grounds for their decision. However, university officials later reported to media sources that Latz’s paid work for Jungle World violated a November 2018 policy governing academic exchange with the Free University of Berlin. Russia’s Ministry of Interior reportedly informed Latz that he is banned from entering Russia until June 2023.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the expulsion and effective deportation of a student in apparent retaliation for academic and expressive activities — 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 signatory. University and state authorities have a duty to refrain from interfering with such conduct as long as it is carried out peacefully and responsibly. Such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.