On October 28, 2020, Belarusian State Medical University (BSMU) expelled several students in apparent retaliation for their participation in nationwide protests against 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 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, BSMU reportedly expelled several students in apparent connection to their participation in protests. While BSMU has not publicly disclosed how many students were expelled, reports range from 15 to 30 students. One BSMU student, Polina Korzhenevskaya, informed TUT.BY, an independent news service in Belarus, that the Dean instructed Korzhenevskaya to sign her expulsion order, which accused her of “violating the internal regulations and disrupting the educational process.” BSMU has not publicly disclosed the grounds for the mass expulsion of students.
In a November 13 interview, President Lukashenko said about 300 students have been expelled from universities across the country and that he instructed parliamentarians to work on reinstating students. On November 17, expelled BSMU students reportedly received a text message asking them to meet with the Dean to discuss reinstating the students back into the university. According to an expelled BSMU student, Maria, BSMU officials require two conditions for students to be reinstated; a member of BSMU has to vouch for the student and the student must stop participating in any political activity.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the expulsion of students in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and the conditioning of reinstatement on a guarantee that students will refrain from exercising such rights — rights that are 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.