On September 4, 2020, police reportedly used violence against and detained students during a protest over the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko at Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU).
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 4, about fifty students gathered in the MSLU lobby and sang “Do you Hear the People Sing?” a song about rebellion and freedom from the musical Les Misérables. Riot police arrived in three buses and arrested at least five students for “participating in illegal protests.” Riot police reportedly used excessive force in detaining students, including by shoving and dragging students out of the MSLU lobby. Later that day, the students were released.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students 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.