On September 17, 2020, police reportedly arrested European Humanities University (EHU) student Maryja Rabkova and her husband, Vadim Zharomsky, in apparent retaliation for her participation in protests calling for the resignation 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. The opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was forced to flee to Lithuania after receiving threats. 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, often led by university students, across the country. Police frequently responded to protests with arrests and violent force.
Rabkova is a third year student at the International Law and European Union Law program at EHU and the coordinator of the Volunteer Service at Human Rights Center Viasna. In that capacity, Rabkova has monitored nationwide protests calling for President Lukashenko’s resignation.
On September 17, officers of the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK), driving in multiple vans, pulled Rabkova and Zharomsky over as they were en route home, and arrested them, taking them into custody in separate vans.
The GUBOPiK officers reportedly informed Rabkova that she was being arrested under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus for “education or other preparation of persons for participation in mass riots, or financing such activities” and brought her to a detention facility.
Meanwhile, the GUBOPiK officers took Zharomsky to his and Rabkova’s apartment, where they conducted a search and seized various personal belongings. The GUBOPiK officers then brought Zharomsky to their office where they interrogated him. Zharomsky was later released.
On September 19, Rabkova was transferred to Minsk Detention Center No. 1. If convicted, Rabkova could face six months to three years in prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of a student in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association — 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 nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association. 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.