On September 5, 2020, police reportedly detained dozens of Belarusian State University (BSU) and Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU) students during protests 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 5, students and faculty from various universities held demonstrations in the Belarusian capital Minsk. BSU students reportedly marched off campus when plainclothes officers reportedly arrested at least fifteen of them, pushing them into buses and driving them to an undisclosed location.
About 200 students and faculty gathered at MSLU and sang “I Want Changes!” by the band Kino, which became a popular protest song in the late 1990s. MSLU students and faculty denounced a number of arrests of students from their university that occurred the previous day (see report). When the group started to march off campus on Independence Avenue, a main street in Minsk, police detained several students and faculty.
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.