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 28, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Belarusian State University

Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 28, 2021, police arrested Volha Kavaleuskaya (Ольга Ковалевская), a professor at Belarusian State University (BSU), the day before President Alexander Lukashenko came to visit the university.

Kavaleuskaya, a senior lecturer in the university’s Department of Geology, was detained at her home on the evening of January 28 and taken to Fruzensky District Court. The arrest appears to have been an effort to deter Kavaleuskaya from organizing or participating in protest activities around President Lukashenko’s visit to campus.

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

According to Kavaleuskaya’s daughter, Kavaleuskaya was charged with violating Articles 23.4 – disobedience to a lawful order or demand of an official in the exercise of his official powers – and 23.34 – organizing or participating in unsanctioned mass events – of the Administrative Code. She was sentenced to 25 days in jail.

The other scholars arrested in apparent connection with the president’s visit include former professor Sviatlana Volchak (Светлану Волчек) and Pavel Piatrou (Павел Петров). 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 apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right 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 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.