SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 12, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):George Washington University

Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 12, 2020, Belarussian authorities detained George Washington University (GW) PhD candidate Stas Gorelik amid nationwide protests over widely condemned national election results.

The official results of the August 9 election had President Alexander Lukashenko, who first took office in 1994, winning reelection for a sixth term with more than 80% of the vote. However, critics from inside Belarus, as well as international observers, immediately condemned the result, charging that the election was marked by widespread electoral fraud, triggering mass demonstrations across the country involving hundreds of thousands of protesters. In the days that followed, police responded by arresting and using violent force against thousands of people.

Gorelik, a citizen of Belarus, is a PhD candidate in GW’s Department of Political Science and has served as a graduate teaching assistant. He had traveled to the country, together with his US citizen girlfriend, Marisa Durham, to renew his US visa; however, the couple was unable to return to the US due to travel restrictions implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Durham reports that around 1:00 a.m. on August 12, state security agents broke down the door of Gorelik’s apartment in Minsk where the couple was sleeping, searched the couple’s belongings, and beat and arrested Gorelik. The agents reportedly brought him to a Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security) detention center. On August 14, Gorelik was charged with mass rioting under Article 293 of Belarus’s criminal code. According to Durham, she and Gorelik had not been involved in any of the protests.

On August 15, it was reported that Gorelik was released. Authorities have not publicly disclosed whether he still faces any charges, or other details surrounding his release.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the beating and apparently arbitrary arrest and detention of a scholar by state authorities. Arbitrary arrests and imprisonments without particularized and reasonable suspicion may violate recognized international human rights standards . In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.