Belarus: University students expelled from universities and jailed for peaceful protest

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Belarusian students are arrested on criminal charges, prosecuted for peaceful activism and expelled from educational institutions, in retaliation for their involvement in the continued protest movement against the official results of the widely contested August 2020 presidential election, said Amnesty International declared today.

In a new publication the organization describes brutal reprisals against students and reveals the disruptive impact of the state repression of university life in Belarus.

“Students and teachers who demonstrated across Belarus have started their current school year in a country radically transformed by the events of the summer. From the start, it was clear that their dissent would not be tolerated by the authorities or by many university administrations. On October 27, Alyaksandr Lukashenka called on universities to fire them. We then saw with dismay how universities were doing exactly that to dozens of students, ”said Aisha Jung, head of Amnesty International’s campaign on Belarus.

Students and teachers who protested across Belarus began their current school year in a country radically transformed by the events of the summer. From the start, it was clear that their dissent would not be tolerated either by the authorities or by many university administrations.

Aisha Jung, Senior Amnesty International Campaigner on Belarus

As of May 17, 2021, according to the Belarusian Student Association, an independent student union, at least 466 students have been detained, nearly a third of whom are women. Many have been taken into 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 fearing for their safety. Forty-two students became suspects in criminal cases and six were sentenced to prison terms.

In one of the most brazen attacks on student organizations, authorities launched a criminal investigation against 11 student activists and a teacher, many of whom were arrested from their homes on November 12, 2020, a date known since as “Black Thursday”. “Their trial began on May 14 and is expected to continue until mid-June. All face charges under article 342 of the Belarusian Penal Code (“ organization and preparation of actions that seriously violate the public order ”), punishable by imprisonment for up to two years.

19-year-old Anastasia Bulybenka is one of the defendants. On the day of her arrest, Anastasia was sleeping in her bed in the apartment she shares with her mother when she heard a voice telling her to get up. She opened her eyes and saw six strangers standing around her bed after they forced their way into her apartment. Anastasia has been held in pre-trial detention since her arrest over six months ago – during that time her mother, Aksana, was only allowed a 45-minute meeting with her.

“For me, the whole world stopped, and I just looked at her… She’s an adult now, the child was completely gone from her face. And she wrote this to me later in a letter saying: “I left our house on November 12 when I was a child and will come back to adulthood,” Aksana told Amnesty International recalling this meeting. .

For me the whole world stopped, and I just looked at her … She’s an adult now, the child was completely gone from her face

Aksana, mother of Anastasia Bulybenka

Targeting politically active students and teachers is not a new tactic by Belarusian authorities or educational institutions. However, as with all those currently denouncing the government in the context of the presidential election, the scale of the harassment, persecution and violence against them is unprecedented in the history of post-independence Belarus.

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

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

“We call on student unions and student leaders around the world to show solidarity with their peers in Belarus and demand that the authorities in their country take immediate action to pressure the government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to put end to the strangulation of public life, of university life, of the brightest young people in the country.

We call on student unions and student leaders around the world to show solidarity with their peers in Belarus

Aisha Jung, Senior Amnesty International Campaigner on Belarus

Background

This campaign briefing is the sixth in a series of briefings, as part of the #StandWithBelarus campaign, which Amnesty International is producing to highlight how different sectors of Belarusian society are being targeted by Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s repressive government, after claiming victory in the 9 Presidential Election of August 2020 despite mounting evidence of mass electoral fraud. The post-election repression of human rights in Belarus went far beyond targeting “usual suspects” from the political opposition, independent media and civil society.

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