On November 12, 2020, Belarusian police reportedly searched the homes of eleven student activists and one professor, following a series of protests — many of which were led by students — in the wake of the country’s August presidential election. The police took the students into custody.
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. Many of the protests have been organized by students. Police responded to nationwide protests by arresting and using violent force against thousands of people.
On November 12, police conducted a series of house raids on the homes of members of the Belarusian Students Association and students from various universities and reportedly took the targets of the raids into custody. They include Alana Gebramariam, a member of the Coordinating Council; Ksenia Syramalot, the press secretary; Belarusian State University (BSU) students Yahor Kanetski, Tanya Yakelchyk, Ilia Trakhtenberg; Belarusian National Technical University students Nastya Bulybenka and Vika Hrankouskaya; Belarusian State Pedagogical University students Kasiaa Budzko and Yana Arabeika; Belarusian State Academy of Arts student Masha Kalenik; and Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU) student Hleb Fitzner. Police also searched the home of Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics professor Volha Filatchankava, but did not detain her.
As of this report, authorities have not disclosed the grounds for the searches or arrests.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonments of students and a faculty member in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights 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 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.
Updates and Correction (December 3, 2021): This report has been updated to reflect reporting that 11 students, rather than 5, were arrested. It should also be noted that, on July 16, 2021, 10 of the students and professor Volha Filatchankava were convicted and sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment for “organizing and preparing in group actions that grossly violate public order (Criminal Code Article 342(1)). MSLU student Hleb Fitzner pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. This report has also been corrected to reflect that Kasia Budzko and Yana Arabeika were students of Belarus State Pedagogical University, not Bashkir State Pedagogical University, as previously reported.