Russian Human Rights Defender Dismissed from University Position for LGBT Activism
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today said that the dismissal of a prominent human rights activist in Russia from his position at Northern Federal University is an alarming indicator of increasing persecution of civil society and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists by Russian authorities. Oleg Kluenkov, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Northern Federal University in Archangelsk, Russia, is active in the human rights movement and leads “Rakurs,” an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of the Russian LGBT community. While his dismissal from Northern Federal University was purportedly for “absenteeism,” Kluenkov has endured ongoing intimidation and harassment as a result of his LGBT activism. Last year, Kluenkov and a colleague traveled to the United States with Human Rights First to speak about LGBT issues in Arkhangelsk’s sister city, Portland, Maine and with U.S. government officials in Washington, D.C.
“The alarming dismissal of Oleg from his teaching position reflects the growing trend of persecution and harassment of human rights activists by Russian authorities. Authorities have clearly put activists like Oleg and others who work fearlessly to promote the rights of Russia’s LGBT community in the crosshairs,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We urge the city government of Portland, Maine, along with the appropriate federal U.S. officials, to immediately condemn Oleg’s dismissal and to offer support and assistance to the members of Rakurs and Arkhangelsk’s LGBT community. The United States has an interest in continuing to support and protect Russian human rights defenders, who often face persecution and discrimination for their work promoting equality.”
In April of this year, members of the state security service FSB targeted Kluenkov with an investigation into his whereabouts during a period of two weeks in the fall of last year when he traveled to the United States to meet with members of Congress, the State Department, Portland government officials, human rights activists, and the local LGBT community. Although the trip was during a time period when Kluenkov was not teaching, the FSB and a local prosecutor demanded the university take disciplinary action for the trip. Citing violations of the Labour Code concerning absenteeism, the university buckled to the pressure from authorities and asked for Kluenkov’s resignation. Kluenkov refused to leave voluntarily and was dismissed today. Kluenkov has appealed the decision and his first hearing is scheduled for July 2.
While in Portland last fall, Kluenkov spoke with activists and the media about his work within Arkhangelsk, both personally and as a member of Rakurs. The trip was designed to bring increased attention to Russia’s discriminatory anti-“propaganda” law that targets LGBT Russians. The resulting media attention, which made its way back to Russia, is likely the reason for Kluenkov’s persecution and unemployment.
Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to press Russian officials to suspend its discriminatory anti-“propaganda” law, end the systematic persecution of civil society, and prevent the spread of Russian-style anti-“propaganda” laws in the surrounding region.