On April 19, 2022, the rector of Volgograd State University (VSU) fired Roman Melnichenko, a long-time lecturer at VSU’s Department of Constitutional and Municipal Law, shortly after Russian legal proceedings and a VSU investigation were opened against him for allegedly distributing false information.
Melnichenko has been an outspoken critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in part due to his parents living there. He has shared material on social media criticizing Russian aggression, including a photo of his parents and a video from Bucha showing broken Russian military equipment.
Because he reposted the video, a prosecutor’s check was initiated against him at VSU around the beginning of April, which triggered an ethics commission. Although Melnichenko insists the video was posted in a personal capacity unrelated to his academic activities, he was brought before the commission and informed that there would be “problems” for the university if he was not fired. Immediately after he went before the commission, police arrested Melnichenko while he was still on campus and brought him before a court, also over the video. Russian authorities argued that the video was fake and eventually charged Melnichenko with Article 13.15 Part 9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses – dissemination of false information – which can result in a fine of up to 100,000 rubles (roughly USD $1,700 as of July 12, 2022).
According to Amnesty International, VSU then fired Melnichenko on April 19, citing an “immoral disciplinary offense.” Speaking with RFE/RL, he stated that he was officially fired for absenteeism, despite being present for his classes. On June 13, 2022, he told AFP that he is still attempting to challenge the dismissal order in court. According to that same article, if upheld, the dismissal for “immoral conduct” would prevent Melnichenko from “finding another teaching job in Russia.”
In June, Melnichenko was found guilty of the administrative offense of spreading false information and fined 30,000 rubles (then roughly USD $500) after he pleaded not guilty. He expressed to AFP that he fears he could soon be charged with criminal offenses.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the dismissal and prosecution of a scholar for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression – conduct which is expressly protected by 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 taking actions that punish or restrict peaceful expressive activity. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, prosecutions and dismissals in response to scholar’s nonviolent expressive activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.