RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
Ever since Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny began organizing fresh anticorruption protests in March, teachers and administrations across the country have warned students of the potentially dire consequences of such dissent.
With Navalny having recently toured major Russian cities and drawn substantial crowds of supporters for his presidential bid, evidence of such pressure on students continues to surface.
The latest known incident involves Almaz Imamov, a first-year student in the city of Neftekamsk, in Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan.
Imamov, 17, told RFE/RL that his difficulties with administrators at the Neftekamsk Mechanical Engineering College began earlier this year after he joined a pro-Navalny group on VKontakte, the popular Russian-language analogue of Facebook.
Since then, he says, he has been called in for meetings with college higher-ups -- and a psychologist -- and claims he was threatened with expulsion.
"I asked, 'And what about the constitution?'" says Imamov, who took part in a June protest as part of nationwide demonstrations spearheaded by Navalny.
Imamov's case drew attention after he posted an audio recording he made during one of these meetings on YouTube.
During the meeting, which Imamov says was held on September 26, a woman identified as deputy college director named Zinfira Salimyanova can be heard scolding the student for using an expletive to describe President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party "during his talk with a psychologist."
"We don't have the right to say such things against our current government," the woman says. "They used to shoot people for that! Stood them right up and shot them, you understand? Nothing changes, except now they don't shoot you."
Imamov's mother also attended the meeting, during which the woman said to be Salimyanova threatened to inform police if the student took part in protests.
"His position is wrong," the woman can be heard saying. "He is going against our system. He is going against our rules."
Attempts to reach Salimyanova for comment were unsuccessful.
A man who answered the main phone at the college on October 2 told RFE/RL that school officials had indeed met with Imamov to "warn" him about the potentially negative consequences of taking part in demonstrations for which the authorities have not granted permission.
The man, who declined to give his name, said such conversations are standard at the school because such demonstrations could put the students "in danger." He denied that Imamov had been threatened with expulsion.
Imamov tells RFE/RL that he plans to "stand my ground."
"Most likely I'll appeal to prosecutors to defend my constitutional rights," he says.
Navalny, 41, has opened dozens of campaign offices in regions across Russia since announcing late last year that he would run in the March 2018 presidential election, which is expected to hand Putin a new six-year term.
Russian election officials have said Navalny is ineligible to run due to a felony embezzlement conviction in a case he calls politically motivated.
But he continues to campaign as if he'll make the ballot, holdings rallies in several large cities in recent weeks that have drawn crowds of hundreds or thousands of supporters, many of whom are in their teens or 20s.
The school's director denied to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that its students had received such a warning.
Navalny's campaign chief, meanwhile, posted on Twitter an image of an alleged letter from the administration of Vladivostok urging schools to warn students about the potential legal consequences of taking part in unsanctioned demonstrations.
The letter posted by Leonid Volkov was dated September 21, two days before a rally Navalny held in that Far East city.
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