On October 17, 2020, police reportedly arrested at least ten people during a peaceful student protest over contested results in Belarus’s 2020 presidential election.
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.
At Minsk State Linguistic University, on October 17 protest, more than one hundred demonstrators—mostly students from various local universities—assembled at noon for a “Youth March.” According to one source, the meeting location was not announced until shortly before the protest start time, ostensibly to circumvent efforts by police to shut it down.
Just before 1:00 PM, as the group marched on nearby Kazlova Street, police appeared from unmarked vans and chased after protesters. Reports suggest that some of the protesters had held up traffic at a major intersection. Police detained at least ten people, including students and several journalists. Sources do not indicate that those detained acted violently or attempted to stop traffic. The detained were released that same day.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of students and journalists during a peaceful student protest—conduct that is expressly protected by 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 a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.