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: April 17, 2021

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Belarusian State University

Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 17, 2021, Belarusian State University did not renew the contract of Alena Laeyuskaya, a civil law professor. The decision appears to be based on political considerations, specifically her son’s legal defense of imprisoned, former presidential candidate, Viktar Babaryka.

Laeyuskaya’s son, Dzmitry Laeuski, told TUT.BY that BSU terminated Laeyuskaya’s employment despite the fact that she had previously expressed to the university her desire to renew employment. According to Laeuski, Article 261-5 of the Belarusian Labor Code states that an employer must conclude a contract with an employee who is no more than two years away from reaching the legal retirement age, which is 57.5 years of age for working Belarusian women. Laeyuskaya, who worked at the university for 22 years and was 57 years old at the time, met this requirement. 

In March 2021, Belarus’s Bar Council began criminal proceedings against Laeuski, following his defense of Viktar Babaryka. On April 8, the Minsk City Bar Association’s disciplinary commission took punitive action against Laeuski, though it is unclear what the punishment was. Laeuski also indicated that several days before his mother was terminated, he publicly criticized a draft law that he said would reduce the autonomy of the legal profession in the country.

RadioFreeEurope and Laeuski, via his Telegram channel, reported that on April 22, Laeyuskaya filed suit against BSU for her effective termination. Her son alleges that preparations for his mother’s firing began well in advance of her dismissal.

On May 6, Laeuski posted to his Telegram channel that a preliminary court hearing was taking place in Laeyuskaya’s case against BSU for “illegal dismissal and reinstatement at work.” Laeuski indicated that himself and his colleague, Yulia Stalmakhova, were representing his mother in court. On May 27, the court dismissed Laeyuskaya’s case against the university. Laeuski told Radio Free Liberty / Radio Europe that Laeyuskaya would be appealing the decision.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the effective termination of a scholar, apparently based on political considerations. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against scholars based on political consideration, including imputed political views. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, politically motivated disciplinary actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.