On October 26, 2020, police reportedly arrested dozens of students during protests at several universities, 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 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 October 13, Tikhanovskaya, who maintains she won the August 9 election, issued a “people’s ultimatum” to President Lukashenko, demanding that he resign by October 25, stop the violence against protesters, and release political prisoners. In the statement, Tikhanovskaya announced that if President Lukashenko failed to meet these demands, protests would continue and a nationwide strike would begin on October 26.
On October 25, after President Lukashenko refused to resign, Tikhanovskaya announced on Telegram, a social media platform, that a nationwide strike would begin the following day. On October 26, workers and students across the country organized strikes where they walked out of factories and classrooms and demonstrated in the streets.
Over 100 students from Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU) and Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (BGUIR) reportedly marched on Independence Avenue, the major street in Minsk. Riot police arrived and arrested several students, causing many other students to disperse. As of this report, authorities have not publicly disclosed what charges the students face, if any.
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.