On March 7, 2023, a Russian court fined Elena Kabakova, an associate professor of mathematics at Pyatigorsk State University, for comments that she made in class that were allegedly critical of Russia and the war in Ukraine.
Kabakova reportedly showed a photograph of some of her relatives from Ukraine and made remarks condemning a student’s relative who was fighting in Ukraine. This prompted several students to send letters to the university denouncing her remarks. Some students also testified in court. Kabakova denied making such remarks in class.
The Pyatigorsk City Court fined Kabakova 30 thousand rubles for “discrediting” the Russian army under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code, which makes speaking out against the Russian armed forces illegal.
After the court’s ruling was broadcasted publicly, the University deleted Kabakova’s information from its website.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparent termination of, as well as administrative penalties against, a professor for the nonviolent exercise, in class, of the right to free 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 authorities too must refrain from restricting the peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, administrative penalties undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.