On November 12, 2020, Belarussian police reportedly searched the homes of five student leaders 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 reportedly took the targets of the raids into custody. They include Alana Gebramariam, a member of the Coordinating Council; Ksenia Syramalot, the press secretary; Yahor Kanevsky; and Bashkir State Pedagogical University students Kasya Budko and Yana Arabey. Police also searched the home of Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics professor Volha Filatchankava, but did not detain him.
As of this report, authorities have not disclosed the grounds for the searches or arrests.
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 and 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.