On January 30, 2021, Astrakhan State University (ASU) expelled three students for participating in a January 23 protest in support of imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Protests over Navalny’s arrest swept Russia in what the New York Times called the “biggest dissent in years.” Young people and students made up a significant portion of the protestors. Russian authorities stated that the protests were unauthorized and have detained and taken legal action against a growing number of participants.
One week after the protest, ASU’s rector, Konstantin Markelov, announced on the Russian social media network VKontakte that he signed orders to expel three students who participated in the protests, based on university regulations. The students ordered expelled include Alexander Mochalov (Александр Мочалов), Vera Inozemtseva (Вера Иноземцева), and Violetta Emelianenko (Виолетта Емельяненко). At least one of the students had reportedly been detained after attending the January 23 protests.
Inozemtseva, a master’s student at ASU, said she learned of the expulsion through friends who had seen the rector’s social media post, and that she had not yet been notified by the university. Inozemtseva told Russian news outlet Kommersant that she would appeal the expulsion order in court.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the expulsion of students in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, expulsions aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On February 11, 2021, RFE/RL reported that two of the expelled students, Vera Inozemtseva and Aleksandr Mochalov, are suing Astrakhan State University. Vera Inozemtseva told RFE/RL that she and her legal team will argue that the expulsion violates the university’s rules and their right to freedom of assembly under the Russian Constitution.
UPDATE: On March 19, 2021, Kommersant reported that the Leninsky District Court of Astrakhan dismissed Vera Inozemtseva’s claim to be reinstated at Astrakhan State University. The court is still considering Aleksandr Mochalov’s claim of reinstatement.