SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 29, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Belarus State University

Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 29, 2021, police detained Pavel Piatrou, a professor at Belarusian State University (BSU), on the same day President Alexander Lukashenko came to visit the university.

Pavel Piatrou (Павел Петров), a senior lecturer in the Department of Physical Electronics and Nanotechnologies, was detained at his home in the morning hours. Authorities confiscated electronic devices and took him to Fruzensky District Court.

The arrest was apparently part of an effort to deter protests over Lukashenko’s visit. One current and another former BSU professor were also detained at around the same time. Protests erupted across Belarus in 2020 following President Lukashenko’s re-election. International observers described the election as not being free or fair. Students and faculty, including Petrov, have been actively involved in the protests.

On February 1, Petrov was convicted of violating Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code — disobedience to a lawful order or demand of an official in the exercise of his official powers. Petrov rebutted the charges. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail.

The other scholars arrested in apparent connection with the president’s visit include former professor Sviatlana Volchak (Светлану Волчек) and geology professor Volha Kavaleuskaya (Ольга Ковалевская). Volchak lost her position at BSU in September 2020 after being arrested for her participation in the election protests.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a scholar in an apparent effort to deter the nonviolent 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. 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, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.

Correction (December 2, 2021): An earlier version of this report referred to Pavel Piatrou as “Pavel Petlov,” Sviatlana Volchak as “Svetlana Volchek,” and Volha Kavaleuskaya as “Olga Kovalevskaya,” the incorrect transliterations of their Belarusian names.