On June 16, 2023, a student reported to the media that they had been expelled, along with six other students from the Faculty of History at St. Petersburg State University (SPbSU) for speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The seven individuals were all students of recently fired history professor Mikhail Belousov (see report). Screenshots of Telegram messages between Belousov and the students reportedly documented them openly criticizing the war in Ukraine and the Russian armed forces.
The SPbSU ethics committee met on June 3 to discuss the students’ actions. Later, the students received an email from the ethics committee stating they were being expelled for “discrediting” the Russian armed forces and for making fun of a previous student’s death while fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Russia. It was stated the students’ actions were “incompatible with the status of a student at St. Petersburg State University.”.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by reports of a university expelling students for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Higher education authorities should refrain from such disciplinary actions and respect students’ exercise of the rights to freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, disciplinary actions intended to deter or punish organized student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.