The War on Academic Free Speech in Russia

snowden

Why Should Professors Have Free Speech?
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
November 10, 2019

The desire of certain universities to control the things the public intellectuals they employ as professors say about socially important issues teeters on the verge of censorship and can hardly benefit their reputations, demonstrating only the growing fears of their administrators.

On Friday, the Higher School of Economics made public the decision of its ethics board, which voted seven to one in favor of recommending that Gasan Gusejnov, a linguist employed in the university’s humanities faculty, apologize for his “ill-considered and irresponsible” remarks on his personal Facebook page regarding the “cesspool-like” Russian used by the Russian media. The majority of council members found the statement had caused “serious harm” to the university’s “professional reputation.”

In particular, the ethics board referred to recommendations for university staff members regarding public statements: “If the public statements of employees touch on issues that are matters of considerable public controversy […] it is recommended they refrain from mentioning the university by name.”

However, Gusejnov did not mention his position at the university in the Facebook post that sparked a witch hunt against him on social media and in pro-Kremlin media outlets. Gusejnov said he did not intend to apologize, as he had not yet received an official request to apologize from the university. This triggered a new wave of invective against him.

The persecution of university lecturers and students for political reasons cannot be called something new. In March 2014, MGIMO terminated its contract with Professor Andrey Zubov after his statements about the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. In April 2015, the Smolny Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at St. Petersburg State University fired political scientist and human rights expert Dmitry Dubrovsky for his public remarks. In November 2016, Alexei Petrov was fired from his post as deputy dean of the history faculty at Irkutsk State University, allegedly, for disciplinary violations, but it was actually a complaint to the prosecutor’s office by a member of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) that led to his dismissal. In March 2018, the Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk forced philosophy lecturer Mikhail Konstantinov to resign after he had shown students Don’t Call Him Dimon, a 2017 video exposé by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The right to one’s opinions, even critical opinions, cannot be made dependent on a person’s job. Even with regard to civil servants, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that their official positions could not be tantamount to a total ban on the public expression of critical opinions, including in the media. It is all the more impossible to train and educate professionals without critical thinking, free discussion, and the exchange of opinions: without these things, learning turns into scholasticism. Lecturers capable of lively, unconventional thought make the reputations of universities.

There have been other such examples in the history of the Higher School of Economics. The university did not react when, in October 2013, Vladimir Putin called Professor Sergei Medvedev a “fool” for arguing that the Arctic should be administered internationally. Now, however, its administrators have probably been forced to yield to the pressure, hoping that by sacrificing individuals it can maintain control over its professors. But this is a precarious path to a questionable goal.

Image courtesy of democraticunderground.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Zhilkomservis No. 3: The Central Asian Janitors of Petersburg’s Central District

Central District for a Comfortable Environment
PB Films, 2019
vk.com/pb_films

On National Unity Day, after much deliberation, ordinary janitors agreed to tell us their stories of corruption, slave-like exploitation, “dead souls,” meager salaries, and problems with housing and working conditions.

Everything you see in our film is true.

Join the group Central District for a Comfortable Environment.

Special Rapid Deployment Force Raids Jehovah’s Witness Gathering in Norilsk

tomsk raidPolice raiding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk in 2018. Photo courtesy of the website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

Special Forces Raid Recreational Compound in Norilsk Where More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Gathered, Criminal Charges Filed
OVD Info
October 22, 2019

On October 20, the Special Rapid Deployment Force (SOBR) raided a recreational compound in Norilsk where more than fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered, later carrying out searches in some of their homes, according to a report posted the next day on the religious organization’s website. A source in law enforcement confirmed that the raid had happened, according to local news website Tayga.info.

“Masked commandos broke into the building and ordered everyone who was there to surrender their telephones and tablets,” said the report on the Jehovah’s Witness website. Some of the people were then taken away in minivans to be interrogated or have their homes searched. Witnesses noticed the Norilsk Nickel logo on some of the vans.

There is information about searches in five homes. They lasted around five hours. Police confiscated Bibles, computers, tablets, and telephones from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The interrogations took place at the local headquarters of the Russian Investigative Committee. The people interrogated were asked questions from a questionnaire consisting of twenty-five questions. In particular, they were asked about their affiliation with the “forbidden” faith.

According to Tayga.info’s source, criminal charges have been filed against the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witness community.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist” organization, abolishing it and banning it from operating in Russia. In August of the same year, all local Jehovah’s Witness organizations in Russia were banned, setting off a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the church.

In February 2019, a court handed down the first sentence against a Jehovah’s Witness involving a long term of imprisonment: Danish national Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison. He has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has promised to review it.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Piglet

piglet“Should we go and search someone’s home, Piglet?” Cartoon by Sergey Elkin

New Wave of Police Searches Targets Allies of Opposition Leader Navalny Across Russia
Moscow Times
October 15, 2019

Police searched the homes of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s supporters in at least 12 Russian cities overnight following mass raids last month, the police-monitoring website OVD Info reported Tuesday.

News of the latest wave of early-morning home searches came from cities including Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar in the south, and Arkhangelsk in the north. Police carried out more than 200 raids against Navalny allies across Russia last month as part of a criminal money-laundering investigation into his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

“This is a new wave of searches concerning the case of alleged money laundering by FBK employees,” the foundation’s director Ivan Zhdanov told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Russia’s Investigative Committee later confirmed it carried out searches across 30 Russian regions as part of its money-laundering investigation into the FBK.

The Justice Ministry blacklisted FBK last week under Russia’s 2012 “foreign agent” law that imposes crippling auditing and reporting requirements on groups listed. Navalny and his allies maintain that they receive funding solely through Russian donations, but the ministry said that the FBK had received donations from the US and Spain.

Navalny has called that move and others, including the jailing of several protesters, part of a coordinated and trumped-up campaign to stifle the anti-Kremlin opposition’s activities.

On Tuesday, investigators said they had seized documents and other items during their searches. Several of Navalny’s supporters had been taken in for questioning, they said.

The FBK’s video investigations accusing officials of corruption have riled Russia’s elite. The authorities froze bank accounts associated with Navalny in August as part of the money-laundering investigation that he says is trumped up.

Navalny and his allies led political protests this summer over a local election in Moscow that grew into the biggest sustained protest movement in the Russian capital in years, peaking at around 60,000 people before appearing to lose steam.

The Safe Internet League

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Miracles of OSINT
Telegram
August 12, 2019

“Senator” Andrei Klimov’s attack on YouTube—he claimed the video hosting service had been used to provide protesters on Sakharov Avenue with far-out guns and tell them to storm the Kremlin—might not have been mere psychosis on the part of yet another Russian elder in high places.

Through his so-called Interdisciplinary Institute for Regional Studies, Klimov is an official partner of Russian Orthodox businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, founder of the Safe Internet League.

Klimov’s institute and Malofeyev’s think thank Katehon are co-founders of Eurasian Dialogue.

“Today we have arrived at the law ‘On the Sovereign Internet’ in Russia precisely because the United States did not let us take part in regulating [the internet]. We have been forced to incur financial losses in order to create a parallel, mobilizing Runet,” Malofeyev has said, for example.

But Malofeyev, who fancies flashy, expensive suits with handkerchiefs sticking out of the pockets, is also not just obsessed with conservatism for nothing. He is close to former communication minister Igor Shchegolev, who has always been regarded as the FSB’s voice regarding internet regulation.

No wonder Roskomnadzor immediately launched an inquiry into whether Klimov’s cyberpunk dreams were true.

Image courtesy of Cropas. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Safe Internet League to attend China’s Internet Security Conference
Safe Internet League
August 15, 2016

[The] Internet Security Conference, due to open on August 16, 2016, in Beijing, China, is set to welcome head of [the] Safe Internet League Denis Davydov as one of its keynote speakers.

[The] ISC is one of the largest and most representative Asian-Pacific industry conferences on cybersecurity. First held in 2013 by the Cybersecurity Association of China and the 360 Internet Security Centre, the event enjoys the support of the nation’s Cyberspace Administration, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and Ministry of Public Security. The 2016 conference will discuss [the] trends and prospects of the international cybersecurity industry. Expected to attend the event are more than 30 000 specialists from all over the globe and 150 representatives of cybersecurity firms. Delivering keynote speeches will be John McAfee, founder of the company behind McAfee AntiVirus and a 2016 US presidential candidate; Wu Hequan, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering; Zhou Hongyi, founder of Qihoo 360, the world’s largest antivirus company; John Davis, vice president of the network security solutions company Palo Alto Networks (USA); and Chu Chengyun, Director of Cyber Security Strategy at Microsoft (USA), and others.

“It is a great honor to be representing Russia at an event of such importance. The international community is currently in search of a new model of Internet governance, one based on a civilized approach, transparency, respect for and preservation of the sovereignty of nation-states, and the inadmissibility of unilateral control by any single country (which is, in fact, [has] continu[ed] to be the case). I am sure the Beijing meeting [will] help us make progress on this issue,” Mr. Davydov said prior to the conference.

The Persecution of Malsag Uzhakhov

malsag_uzhahov
Malsag Uzhakhov. Photo courtesy of Memorial Human Rights Centre

Malsag Uzhakhov, Chairman of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People, to Remain in Police Custody Until December 25
Yessentuki City Court Today Extended His Arrest for Three Months
Memorial Human Rights Center
September 24, 2019

Malsag Uzhakhov, born 1952, has been accused of organizing violence, threatening to the life and health of public officials, per Articles 33.3 and 318.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, during clashes between protesters and the security forces in Magas on March 27, 2019

In addition, he has been charged with establishing and/or managing an organization whose activities involved inducing people to refuse to perform their civic obligations or commit illegal acts, per Article 239.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

If found guilty of the first charge, Uzhakov could face up to ten years in prison, while the maximum sentence for the second alleged offense is three years in prison. 

Uzhakov’s custody extension hearing was supposed to take place yesterday, but his defense counsel had moved to have his client take part in the hearing via video link since he was unwell and his condition could have deteriorated if he were transported to Yessentuki from the remand prison in Vladikavkaz.  

It transpired that the courtroom was not equipped for video links, so the hearing was postponed to today.

“The term in police custody was extended without any grounds whatsoever,” said Uzhakov’s defense counsel, Jabrail Kuriyev. “Police investigators presented the court with the same documents they presented during the initial custody hearing and the extension hearing on June 6, and they made an identical petition to the court. This runs counter to the recommendation made by the Russian Supreme Court on December 19, 2013, that fresh, updated evidence as to the necessity of keeping accused persons in police custody has to be presented every time an extension is requested. Contrary to this recommendation, no new evidence was presented to the court. The decision to extend Uzhakhov’s arrest was made on the basis of conjectures and assumptions that he would somehow prejudice someone if he were released from remand prison.” 

“While he was being taken from the Vladikavkaz Remand Prison to Yessentuki, they had to try and lower his blood pressure twice. They stopped along the way and he was sick. Malgas’s health is poor. His blood pressure was also high during the hearing, even though he had taken a pill. When the court retired to chambers, his pressure was 180. We thought about giving him a shot to bring it down. His blood sugar is two or three times higher than it should be,” Kuriyev said.

At around six in the morning on April 19, 2019, armed security forces officers in masks detained Uzhakhov at his home in the village of Barsuki in Ingushetia’s Nazran District. They took Uzhakhov to Nalchik, where he was placed in a temporary detention center. 

On April 20, the Nalchik City Court remanded him in custody for two months, until June 18. The same day, he was charged with violating Article 318 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On June 6, the Nalchik City Court extended Uzhakhov’s arrest for three months and seven days, until September 25.

Uzhakhov’s lawyer appealed both extensions, but his appeals were turned down.

On June 20, Uzhakov was charged with another offense per Article 239.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

Before and after his arrest, Uzhakov was charged and convicted several times of administrative offenses for his involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies. Kuriyev managed to have some of the fines for these convictions canceled.

On September 11, Kuriyev reported that Uzhakhov’s health had taken a turn for the worse. On September 13, he reported that his client had suffered two heart attacks in a week and needed medical treatment.

Memorial has recognized Uzhakhov and five other leaders of the Ingush protest movement as political prisoners. 

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Real State of Russia Today

fullsizeoutput_215fRussia is a great place for pipelines, dirt, weeds, and skyscrapers, but it is hell on its people. Photo by the Russian Reader

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Some of my friends say the regime will collapse soon, while others argue it is only picking up a head of steam. It occurred to me yesterday that we mistakenly use the word “regime” when talking about the processes taking place in our midst. A regime can last a very long time, and crackdowns, no matter how ridiculous or chaotic, are not symptoms of its demise.

Since ancient times, the state has had only two fundamental functions: defending borders and administering justice (making laws). Everything else—medical care, education, pensions, and bike lanes—is a recent superstructure. Political regimes can be different, from totalitarian to democratic, and they can forego treating people when they are ill, teaching them, and paying them pensions while still maintaining stability. But it must perform the basic functions; otherwise, it stops being a state.

In Russia, on the contrary, one of these foundations has been completely destroyed over the past decades. I am not talking about crackdowns. There has never been any justice either for so-called dissidents or people who randomly fall victim to the state apparatus. People understood this in the Soviet Union, and they understand it now: you fight the law, and the law whacks you upside the head. The majority of Russians do not dispute the state’s right to crack down on the opposition or meddle in the affairs of other countries.

I am talking, instead, about ordinary life and everyday justice, about what we find in the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, and Yaroslav’s Law—about the promises the state makes to citizens, about the fact that you cannot just be beaten, robbed, and wrongfully accused for no reason at all.

And what about Russia? What should we think when, for example, as a friend told me, a youth gang orders food deliveries and then beats up and robs the delivery people, and they have been running this scam for nearly a year, but the police simply refuse to do anything about it? When a person cannot find protection from his bully of neighbor, who shoots at his windows? When you go to court because traffic cops confiscated your driving license for no reason and then solicited a bribe to give it back to you, and the trial drags on for a year and a half? When you even win the case but the time you spent on it was worth much more in monetary terms than the bribe itself?

I made a point of giving more or less innocuous examples. Any of us knows several such stories. What is the point of doing public opinion polls and asking people whether they trust Putin? Ask people whether they trust the Russian courts and Russian law enforcement agencies. Their answer will show you the depths of the disaster. The Russian state has forfeited its basic function, and so we are slowly returning to the state of nature. Scattered tribes roam the landscape, and whether you are safe or not depends on the biceps of your fellow tribesmen. Strong communities can defend their members, while loners and weaklings die off.

The current outrage at the prison sentence handed down to an actor is not about crackdowns, but about the degradation of the state’s basic functions. This protest will only grow because the state has been vanishing before our eyes. All that remains are armed men who have monopolized power. What will be next? No one knows.

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Andrey Tchabovsky
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Our Motherland

We returned from a conference in Kyzyl (Tuva).

Two Germans, a respected professor, and his wife and colleague, had supplied the event with its international credentials. For over twenty years, they have invested both their money and their labor in research in Tuva. They had become fans of the place. They had made friends. They were friends to numerous local zoologists and zoologists from other parts of Russia. The professor is an honorary member of the Russian Theriological Society, an affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For the conference, they minted very nice commemorative medals, paying for them with their own money, to present to their respected Russian colleagues.

Local officials of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education did not let them into the conference at the university and deleted their papers from the conference program. They were not even allowed into the building, all because of Kotyukov’s decree about interactions with foreign scientists. It is clear the decree can and should be roundly ignored regardless of whether it is legitimate or not. It is equally clear that many people will not ignore it because of the stupid need to stay on the safe side and, so, the decree will do what it was meant to do.

It is an utterly shameful disgrace.

Thanks to Natalia Vvedenskaya for her permission to translate and publish her remarks. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for bringing Andrey Tchabovsky’s remarks to my attention. Translated by the Russian Reader