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Amnesty: Students In Belarus Face Arrest, Expulsion For Peaceful Activism

Students attend an opposition rally to reject the presidential election results, near the Belarusian State University in Minsk on October 26, 2020.

Students in Belarus are facing arrest and expulsion from school for peaceful activism against the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Amnesty International said in a report issued on May 24.

Belarus has been thrown into turmoil since Lukashenka was declared the winner of the country’s presidential election last August, despite opposition and Western assertions the poll was rigged to maintain the authoritarian leader's rule after more than two decades in power.

More than 30,000 people have been arrested, hundreds beaten or even tortured, and journalists targeted in a sweeping crackdown that has led to the government's international isolation amid Western sanctions targeting Lukashenka and his inner circle.

In its news publication, Amnesty International described brutal reprisals against students and exposed the impact of the state’s repression of academic life in Belarus.

“Students and teachers who protested across Belarus began their current academic year in a country radically transformed by events over the summer. From the outset, it was clear that their dissent would not be tolerated by either the authorities or many university administrations. On October 27, Alyaksandr Lukashenka called for universities to dismiss them. We then saw with dismay how universities did exactly this to scores of students,” said Aisha Jung, Amnesty International’s senior campaigner on Belarus.

As of May, according to the Belarusian Students’ Association, an independent student union, at least 466 students have been detained. Many were put under administrative detention or fined an average of 120 euros, a quarter of the average monthly salary in Belarus. At least 153 students have been arbitrarily expelled from universities and many have fled to neighboring countries fearful for their safety. Forty-two students have become suspects in criminal cases and six have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

Amnesty International highlighted the launching of a criminal investigation against 11 student activists and one teacher, many of whom were apprehended at their homes on November 12, 2020, a date which has since become known as “Black Thursday.” Their trial started on May 14 and is expected to continue until mid-June. All are facing charges under an article of the criminal code for "violating public order” that carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

The targeting of politically active students and teachers is not a new tactic in Belarus. However, as with all those currently speaking out against the government in the context of the presidential election, the scale of harassment, persecution, and violence against them is unprecedented in the former Soviet state's postindependence history.

Amnesty International calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately end the repression against students, academics, and all peaceful protesters.

“The Belarusian authorities must abide by their obligations under international human rights law and respect students’ rights to peacefully express their opinions, together or in association, and to peacefully demonstrate without fear of harassment or reprisals,” said Jung.

“We call on student unions and student leaders across the world to show solidarity with their peers in Belarus and demand that their countries’ authorities take immediate steps to put pressure on Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government to end the strangulation of public life, of academic life, of the brightest youth in the country,” she said.

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