An open letter of Russian mathematicians to IMU Executive Committee regarding mathematician and political prisoner Azat Miftakhov

104 Russian mathematicians sent the following letter to the International Mathematical Union Executive Committee, concerning the case of our colleague Azat Miftakhov. Russian mathematicians can continue to sign this letter by filling out the form here.

Dear members of the International Mathematical Union (IMU) Executive Committee,

In Summer 2022, mathematicians of the world are going to convene to mark the achievements of our colleagues and discipline on the whole during the International Congress of Mathematicians scheduled to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This event is of utmost importance for the global mathematical community. Freedom of association, open scientific cooperation between academic communities from different nations, and political neutrality are all cornerstone values that the Congress is set to secure for all mathematicians, which is why we laud the decision to hold the Congress in Russia and make it possible for hundreds of our colleagues to participate. Yet one of Russian mathematicians is deprived of this opportunity on political grounds by Russian authorities — in contrast to the very values that IMU holds dear.

We are referring to Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student at Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University and an anarchist activist, who has been unlawfully incarcerated by the Russian authorities since February 1, 2019. Accused of breaking a window of a local office of Russia’s ruling party, he was initially detained under charges of attempting a terrorist attack. Thanks to the prompt reaction of civil society and the global mathematical community, this charge was dropped by the  state prosecutors, but Miftakhov was nonetheless convicted of committing “hooliganism” and sentenced to six years in federal prison — the term he has been serving to the present day. As of now, he is forced to work on a timber mill despite health conditions and is refused access to the recent English-language mathematical publications.

Facts leave no doubt about the political motivation behind his persecution. It has been scrupulously reported that Azat and other detainees were tortured in order to force out confessions (including threats of penetration with a screwdriver); authorities pressured Azat’s family in the course of criminal proceedings. The whole indictment is based solely on the testimony of a “secret witness” that fails to stand up to public scrutiny. In addition, there was an apparent smear campaign against Miftakhov in jingoist media, some of them state-controlled, that involved using homophobic slurs against him and sharing private information that could not have been acquired in a legal way, such as leaked intimate photos of Azat or recordings of the phone calls with his mother.

The Miftakhov case is by no means an outlier: ever since January 31, 2018, when the crime Azat had been accused of took place, Russia’s Federal Security Service (also known as FSB) only doubled down on its crackdown on people with anarchist views in Russia. However, the academic community in general has since become the target of mounting pressure or even outright repression from Russian authorities. There is a long list of Russian scientists arrested by FSB for alleged treason or espionage including Valery Mitko, Valery Golubkin, Viktor Kudryavtsev and many others. The repressions against Russian scholars are not limited to the natural sciences, with a sociologist and a rector of a major Russia’s non-state university Sergei Zuev being among the most recent victims.

Endorsements coming from the American Mathematical Society, London Mathematical Society, Mathematical Society of France, Italian Mathematical Union, Brazilian Society of Mathematics, and, last not least, from 54 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences serve as ample evidence that the international mathematical community is indeed gravely concerned with the situation. A petition to raise the voice about the Miftakhov case was signed by more than 300 mathematicians and supported by Mathematical Societies of Spain, France, and Ukraine. After all, the International Mathematical Union has itself called the Russian government to let Miftakhov finish his graduate studies in France, where he was proposed a position by the Fondation Mathématique Jacques Hadamard and the Laboratoire de Mathématiques d’Orsay.

Without taking a more steadfast and active stance on the matter, the call for Miftakhov’s release would fall upon deaf ears and result in no action on behalf of the Russian government, like the call of the 54 Russian academicians fell. Simply letting the FSB officer Dmitry Derevyashkin to be listed as a co-organizer of the International Mathematical Congress (ICM) and allowing the Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Mishustin to promote himself on the ICM official twitter account, while Azat is kept incarcerated and forced to work on a timber mill in lieu of doing mathematical research, is an act that goes against the values of political neutrality and professional solidarity that IMU is built upon. We agree that boycotting scientific events is unacceptable, but neither is continued collaboration with the very people and organizations who perpetrate political persecution of scientists in our country. This is why we support the idea expressed by Ahmed Abbes and Cédric Villani and call for IMU to do something it has once had the bravery to do in response to repressions against fellow mathematicians — that is to defer the International Congress of Mathematicians to the moment Azat is released from prison or his case is reviewed in a process that respects his constitutional rights. Moreover, we believe that the Congress, being held in Russia, must include a sectional panel on mathematicians in danger, such as those persecuted on political grounds by authoritarian regimes, which would be open to the public and widely covered by independent journalists.

Azat’s sentence is expected to end on December 5, 2023, which makes it completely possible to preserve the kind of celebration ICM is for everyone, not just those lucky not to be arbitrarily persecuted by an authoritarian government.Reluctance to act would be a scar upon the good name of IMU as a professional organization committed to the values of scientific freedom and political neutrality.

Signed by 104 Russian mathematicians, including 24 non-public signatories whose names we are withholding for their safety and protection.

List of the 80 public signatories:

  1. Arseniy Akopyan, Institute for Information Transmission Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences
  2. Dmitri Alekseevsky, Institute for Information Transmission Problems
  3. Maxim Balashov
  4. Alexey Balitskiy, IAS
  5. Mikhail Borovoi, Tel Aviv University
  6. Alexander Bufetov, CNRS
  7. Alisa Chistopolskaya, NRU HSE
  8. Petr Chunaev, ITMO University
  9. Rodion Deev, IMPAN
  10. Anna Dmitrieva, University of East Anglia
  11. Ilya Dumanski, MIT
  12. Alexander Efimov, NRU HSE and Steklov Mathematical Institute
  13. Alexander Elashvili, Tbilisi State University, Razmadze Mathematical Institute
  14. Roman Fedorov, University of Pittsburgh
  15. Sergey N. Fëdorov
  16. Boris Feigin, HSE
  17. Sergey Finashin
  18. Yan V Fyodorov, King’s College London
  19. Azat Gainutdinov, CNRS France
  20. Nikita Gladkov, UCLA
  21. Artem Gureev, University of Western Ontario
  22. Leonid Gurvits, The City College of New York
  23. Lyalya Guseva
  24. Michael Hitrik, UCLA
  25. Andrei Ionov, MIT
  26. Grigory Ivanov, MIPT and IST Austria
  27. Victor Kac, MIT
  28. Ilya Kapovich, Hunter College of CUNY
  29. Roman Karasev, Institute for Information Transmission Problems
  30. Nikolai Konovalov, University of Notre Dame
  31. Dmitri Korshunov, IMPA
  32. Gregory Kucherov, CNRS
  33. Nikolai Kuchumov, NRU HSE
  34. Yury Kudryashov, University of Toronto
  35. Mikhail Lobanov, Lomonosov Moscow State University
  36. Igor Lysenok, Steklov Mathematical Institute
  37. Alexander Magazinov
  38. Irina Mamsurova, NRU HSE
  39. Dimitri Markushevich, University of Lille
  40. Anastasia Matveeva, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
  41. Sergey Melikhov, Steklov Mathematical Institute
  42. Leonid Monin, Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig
  43. Slava Naprienko, Stanford University
  44. Nikita Nikolskiy, NRU HSE
  45. Ilya Novikov, The Gertner Institute, Chaim Sheba Medical Center
  46. Victor Ostrik, University of Oregon
  47. Anna Perevalova
  48. Alexander Petrov, Harvard University
  49. Leonid Petrov, University of Virginia
  50. Aleksei Piskunov, NRU HSE
  51. Semën Podkorytov
  52. Gleb Pogudin
  53. Alexander Popkovich, NRU HSE
  54. Sergey Popov, University of Porto
  55. Vladimir Potapov, Sobolev Institute of Mathematics
  56. Leonid Prigozhin, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
  57. Vladimir Protasov, Moscow State University
  58. Andrei Rodin, Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences
  59. Vasily Rogov, Humboldt University of Berlin
  60. Daniel Rogozin, Institute for Information Transmission Problem of Russian Academy of Sciences
  61. Slava Rychkov, IHES
  62. Alexander Shen, CNRS & University of Montpellier
  63. Ilias Sibgatullin
  64. Ivan Solonenko, King’s College London
  65. Mikhail Tamm, Moscow State University and Tallinn University
  66. Grigory Taroyan, NRU HSE
  67. Yana Teplitskaya
  68. Gleb Terentiuk, University of Michigan
  69. Arkady Tsurkov, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN)
  70. Alexandra Utiralova, MIT
  71. Dmitri Vassiliev, University College London
  72. Misha Verbitsky, IMPA
  73. Anatoly Vershik, Saint Petersburg branch of Steklov Mathematical Institute
  74. Vladimir Vinnikov, HSE
  75. Vladimir Zakharov
  76. Bogdan Zavyalov, Max Planck Institute for Mathematics
  77. Efim Zelmanov, UC San Diego
  78. Vadim Zharnitsky, University of Illinois
  79. Boris Zilber, University of Oxford
  80. Alexandr Zubkov United Arab Emiartes University; Sobolev Institute of Mathematics, SORAN, Omsk Branch

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