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: September 01, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment


Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 1, 2020, police reportedly arrested several students during a protest over the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The official results of the August 9 election had President Lukashenko, who first took office in 1994, winning reelection for a sixth term with more than 80% of the vote. Critics from inside Belarus, as well as international observers, immediately condemned the result, charging that the election was marked by widespread electoral fraud. Concerns about a fraudulent election triggered mass demonstrations across the country involving hundreds of thousands of protesters. Police responded to nationwide protests by arresting and using violent force against thousands of people.

On September 1, the start of the school year, 3,000 to 5,000 students from various universities in Minsk, the Belarussian capital, walked out of their classes and held a protest to call for the resignation of President Lukashenko, the release of political prisoners, and a new and fair election. Students planned to march to the Ministry of Education; however, police reportedly blocked their path and detained dozens of marchers. Hundreds of student marchers who were not detained later began a second demonstration at Independence Square, where the National Assembly of Belarus and Minsk City Hall are located. Police reportedly arrested several students during that demonstration using excessive force in several cases, including by striking and shoving students. According to Viasna, a Belarus based human rights organization, at least 81 people were detained, including nine journalists and one professor.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence against and arrest of students, faculty, and journalists in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting the rights to freedom of expression and association, so long as they are nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions, when directed against members of the higher education community, undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.