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: October 26, 2022

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):National Academy of Sciences of Belarus

Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On or around October 26, 2022, Belarusian state security forces raided institutes connected to Belarus’s National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and questioned and detained a number of employees. The employees were apparently targeted for their alleged participation in a Telegram group chat called “scientists against violence,” which the Belarusian government categorized as “extremist.”

State security forces looked through employees’ personal cell phones; the officers specifically reviewed Telegram conversations and photos stored on their phones. According to Nasha Niva, some employees were asked to become informants for the Belarusian government.

Nasha Niva reported that as many as 44 employees were detained, though it is unclear whether security forces took them into custody off the premises. The same source reported that an unspecified number of employees were taken to facilities of the State Security Committee, Belarus’s national intelligence agency, and temporarily detained for questioning. At least three people detained in the NAS raid were reportedly taken to the Akrestina detention center and held for one day, while one NAS scholar, Siarhei Haranin, the Deputy Director for Research at the Center for Research on Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature, served a ten-day sentence at Akrestina on charges of “dissemination of extremists materials” and was released on November 6.

Following the NAS raid, on November 2, state security forces arrested Oleg Davydenko, a professor connected to the NAS Institute of Genetics and Cytology, and his wife.

Law enforcement agencies have not provided official information about the raid or the detentions.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about state authorities conducting arbitrary raids of a scientific institution and detaining academic staff and researchers for the alleged nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of 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 must refrain from restricting the peaceful exercise of such rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, these actions 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)