In August, when 23-year-old Ksenia Pakhomova became head of the Kemerovo regional campaign office for leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny, she had no idea the price she would pay.
Her 70-year-old grandmother threatened at work. Her mother losing her job. Her boyfriend expelled from university – all linked to her work on Navalny’s campaign.
The problems began in early October, when the supervisor at a local museum, where Pakhomova’s grandmother worked, twice-threatened to fire her if she didn’t convince her granddaughter to, “stop participating in politics.” The supervisor implied that the management of the museum, run by municipal authorities, was under pressure and had no choice.
A few days later, the Kuzbass State Technical University expelled Pakhomova’s boyfriend, Aleksandr Stepantsov, supposedly for his failure to complete an assignment of which he and his classmates had been previously unaware. Stepantsov was studying for his Master’s degree on an academic merit scholarship. With the help of a petition from the All-Russian Student Union, the university later rescinded their decision.
Next, Natalia Pakhomova, Ksenia’s mother, was suddenly fired from her job as director of a local arts school, a position she had held for only two-and-a-half weeks. A city official cited, “numerous complaints from parents,” but according to Ksenia, a school administration representative told her mother in a private conversation she was dismissed because of her involvement in Navalny’s campaign. Natalia Pakhomova has since filed a court case for wrongful dismissal.
Human Rights Watch has done extensive research on systematic harassment and intimidation of Navalny supporters, including of schoolchildren and university students. In July, a third-year law student in Kaliningrad was expelled after he organized a public protest in solidarity with nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations.
Pakhomova herself faced ruthless harassment. In August, the Kemerovo regional office of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) called her in for a conversation, during which an officer asked her intrusive questions about another opposition activist. A few weeks later, someone hung flyers with her picture and telephone number on apartment building entrances and bus stops in Kemerovo, saying that she, “offers sexual services.”
Russian authorities should let Navalny’s campaigners work without undue interference. Ruthless harassment against them and their families has to stop.