On June 28, 2021, Belarusian researcher Tatiana Kouzina was detained by authorities in the Minsk airport while traveling to Georgia.
Since nationwide, peaceful protests broke out following the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020, Belarusian authorities have increasingly detained and prosecuted scholars, students, journalists, and others for nonviolent political expression.
Kouzina has a master’s in Political Science from European Humanities University and is a well-known Belarusian expert in civil society, civic participation, higher education, and public administration. She is the co-founder and researcher at the School of Young Managers in Public Administration (SYMPA), in Belarus.
According to SYMPA, passport agents detained Kouzina at 10 PM local time, and held her incommunicado for several hours. The next day, Belarusian authorities informed her family that she was being held at a detention facility as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
On July 29, Kouzina met with her attorney, who was reportedly forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the charges brought against her. According to Human Rights Watch, forcing lawyers to sign non-disclosure agreements has become commonplace in Belarus, as a means of silencing reporting on human rights violations. Kouzina was ordered held in pre-trial detention for an additional ten days.
On July 14, Minsk City Court published the charges against Kouzina, which includes Part 1 of Art. 357, Part 3 of Art. 361 and Part 6 of Art. 16 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. The charges include a “conspiracy or other actions aimed at seizing state power,” “calls for actions aimed at damaging the national security of the Republic of Belarus,” and assistance in committing crimes contained in the Criminal Code. The grounds for the charges against her remain unknown.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of a scholar apparently in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — 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 or retaliating against the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, the use of arrests and other legal actions to restrict or retaliate against a researcher’s exercise of the right to freedom of expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.