On March 23, 2017, Belarusian State University (BSU) reportedly expelled Yuri Lukashevich, a student of history and a leader of the youth arm of the Belarusian Public Front (BPF), in apparent retaliation for his participation in a campaign to prevent the construction of a business center near Kurapaty, an historic location where Joseph Stalin ordered mass executions in the 1930’s.
Since early February 2017, Mr. Lukashevich had been engaged in public advocacy to preserve Kurapaty, including an “occupy” encampment and interviews with various media outlets. On February 23, masked men reportedly attacked the activists’ camp near Kurapaty, where Mr. Lukashevich and other BPF members were present. Police officials investigating the encampment notified BSU’s administration that Mr. Lukashevich participated in an unauthorized rally, reportedly leading to questioning of Mr. Lukashevich by the Deputy Dean of BSU’s History Department.
On March 14, university officials reportedly reprimanded Mr. Lukashevich for participating in unauthorized political activities related to the protection of Kurapaty. On March 20, he was reprimanded a second time for alleged truancy. Mr. Lukashevich agreed that he had missed classes, but not as many as the administration alleged. On March 23, he received unofficial notification from the administration that he was expelled due to the truancy reprimand and an earlier reprimand for late payment of university fees. BSU officials have not issued an official notice of expulsion, but have publicly stated that their decision was not related to Mr. Lukashevich’s political activities.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against a student in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Universities have a responsibility to refrain from disciplinary actions taken against students for exercising their right to academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.