On October 28, 2020, the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU) reportedly expelled thirty-two students in apparent retaliation for their participation in nationwide protests against 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. 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.
On October 26, police arrested dozens of students from various universities, including BNTU participating in protests as part of the beginning of a nationwide strike (see report). The following day, it was reported that President Lukashenko called for the expulsion of students and faculty participating in protests.
On October 28, BNTU expelled roughly thirty-two students who were detained during a protest on October 26.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the expulsion of students in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights 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. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions, and dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.