Russians risk jobs for supporting Navalny

MOSCOW (AFP) – Physics teacher Alexei Alexeyev still can’t believe he was fired on the spot after taking part in a rally in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

“It will be very difficult to find work in the public sector,” Alexeyev told AFP by phone from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

The 38-year-old teacher said his school’s management accused him of encouraging students to join anti-government protests that broke out following Navalny’s January 17 arrest at a Moscow airport.

Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic was last week sentenced to two years and eight months in prison after he survived a poisoning attack he blames on the Russian president – a claim the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

More than 11,000 people were reported detained nationwide during pro-Navalny demonstrations that took place on two straight weekends in January and many now face jail terms and criminal charges.

But Alexeyev said he does not talk to students about politics and knows that he has to be “very careful”. “When they asked me if I supported Navalny, I told them that they need to think for themselves,” he said.

According to Alexeyev’s dismissal note, seen by AFP, he was sacked because of “repeated and unjustified breaches of his professional obligations”.

The regional branch of the Education Ministry did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment on the reason behind Alexeyev’s dismissal.

The teacher said he posted a photo of himself at a protest rally on the VKontakte social network – Russia’s equivalent of Facebook – and also shared contact details for an organisation that provides free legal aid to detained protesters.

Alexeyev believes these posts were reported to the school management, with whom he was already in a dispute over the school’s lack of resources.

“They want to scare teachers so that they no longer share their opinions, even on social media,” he said.

On the other end of the country, in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Alexander Ryabchuk said he was forced to resign from a state school where he had taught history for seven years.