On March 5, 2021, police arrested thirty students and other attendees at a meeting of a student trade union in Minsk. Several members of the union had participated in nationwide demonstrations protesting the August 2020 election results.
The official results of the August 9, 2020 election had President Lukashenko, who first took office in 1994, winning reelection for a sixth term with more than 80% of the vote. Concerns about a fraudulent election triggered mass demonstrations, often led by university students and independent trade unions across the country. Police frequently responded to protests with arrests and violent force.
On March 5, students gathered in Minsk to hold the inaugural meeting of the League of Student Associations, a student wing of the Belarusian Free Trade Union. Masked security forces reportedly entered the meeting without announcing that they were police. Forces detained 30 students and several other attendees, and transferred them to the police station. Police allegedly confiscated the detainees’ phones and interrogated them for approximately five hours, releasing most of them later that night without officially charging them.
Four of the students, Vladislav Kalkov, Sofia Margunova, Stanislau Senyukevich, and Kristina Mironenko, were not released. Police charged the students with Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code, “disobeying a lawful order of an official.” The students were each sentenced to 14-15 days in prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students 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.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).