We, representatives of the academic community, student unions, youth, and human rights organizations consider inadmissible the interference of law enforcement officials of the Republic of Belarus in the affairs of higher education institutions, political persecution of students, and disproportionate use of force against them, as happened in cases of persecution of participants of student protests from 1 to 5 September 2020.
On September 1, several attacks were carried out by law enforcement officers during a peaceful march in Minsk. Special police units used excessive force, painful and suffocating methods against students, and beat them.128 people were injured by the security forces, and more than 30 students were illegally detained. Also on September 1, special forces and unknown people in civilian clothes were using excessive force to disperse a peaceful student rally at the Lyceum of the Belarusian State University in Minsk. Several students were brutally detained, despite the fact that they did not resist.
Students of the Belarusian State University, Belarusian National Technical University, Minsk State Linguistic University, and other universities took part in the protests. On September 2 and 3 students were detained for participating in the action.
On September 3, the security forces interrupted a peaceful student action at the Academy of Veterinary Medicine in Vitebsk. Four students were detained. At the Belarusian State Medical University in Minsk, the students who brought national symbols were not allowed to enter the university (probably by order of the university administration).
On September 4, 2020, the students held a peaceful action in the central hall of Minsk State Linguistic University. They protested against the mass repressions that unfolded after the presidential election on August 9, 2020. The students sang songs and shouted “Long live Belarus!”, after which five of them were detained by riot police directly in the university building, and taken to the Partisan District Department of Internal Affairs. In the meanwhile, the special services used force against other students who tried to prevent the detention, threatened and insulted their honor and dignity. Representatives of the university administration observed the incident without interfering. The students were drawn up administrative protocols for “violation of the order of organization or holding of mass events.”
The rector of the university Natalia Baranova shifts the responsibility for the brutality within the university from the representatives of law enforcement agencies to the students, insisting on “the inadmissibility of organizing and conducting unauthorized events at the university.” At the same time, she reports that the university administration was not informed about the arrival of law enforcement officials and their further plans to detain students in the middle of the educational process in front of hundreds of other students.
Ihor Puchenya, the vice-rector for educational work at the same university, threatened students with riot police if they took part in the protests. According to him, this was the instruction that was given to the administrations of higher education institutions from law enforcement agencies throughout Belarus.
The repression of student protest activists continues. On September 5, the security forces in Minsk severely detained 17 student protesters.
The actions of Belarusian law enforcement officers at Minsk State Linguistic University on September 4, 2020, the persecution of student youth for participating in university events, and youth solidarity actions against police arbitrariness are gross violations of a number of fundamental human rights enshrined in such articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by the Republic of Belarus, namely:
– freedom from degrading treatment and punishment (Article 7);
– freedom from arbitrary detention (Article 9);
– freedom of expression (Article 19);
– freedom of peaceful assembly (Article 21)
In addition, the repressive actions of the security forces on the territory of higher educational institutions in connivance with the administrations of these educational institutions disregard the generally accepted principles of academic freedom and university autonomy. Universities must remain a safe space for students and teachers for experimentation and the day-to-day practice of upholding rights and freedoms. Because “faculty and students are particularly vulnerable to political and other pressures that undermine academic freedom,” one of the tasks of higher education administration is to protect students rather than indulge in political orders, harassment, and fear-creating at the university.
We, the signatories of this appeal, call on the governments of the Member States of the European Union, the European Economic Area, and the countries associated with the European Union to react harshly to the actions of the Belarusian authorities, which rigged the presidential election on 9 August 2020 and are now pursuing a policy of mass terror against the Belarusian people, who just demand the restoration of justice. We consider the government’s attack on youth and students to be a particularly threatening trend, which will have an extremely negative impact on Belarusian society as a whole.
We demand the imposition of harsh personal sanctions against the political leadership of Belarus, including key officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Internal Troops Command, and the KGB. Personal sanctions should also be imposed on the commanders of all police units involved in the crackdown on protest activists, including student protests. In addition to banning these individuals from entering EU countries, these sanctions should include the seizure of their foreign assets. Sanctions must work to meet the basic demands of Belarusian protesters:
– holding new presidential elections according to OSCE standards and under its supervision;
– conducting a rapid and effective investigation and prosecution of all those involved in the deployment of mass terror against the participants in the peaceful protest in the period beginning from August 9, 2020.
The academic community of all countries, the member states of the European Union, and its associated countries, as well as the member states of the European Economic Area, are demanding to terminate cooperation with Belarusian universities that interfere in the autonomy of universities and exert severe political pressure on students.
Charity foundation Vostok SOS (Ukraine)
Educational Human Rights House in Chernihiv
Human rights center “Viasna” (Bialorus)
Human rights center “Postup” (Ukraine)
Association of Legal Clinics of Ukraine
Human Rights Centre ZMINA
Foundation of Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)
No Borders Project
Crimean Human Rights Group (Ukraine)
East European Development Institute
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
HRM Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
Rowność.org.pl Foundation (Poland)
Queer May Association (Poland)
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Human Rights House Foundation
Russian Research Centre for Human Rights – Moscow Human Rights House
PEN International Belarusian Centre
Human Rights House Yerevan
Rights Georgia organization
Women’s Resource Center Armenia
Libereco Partnership for Human Rights e.V.
Public Verdict Foundation (Moscow, Russia)
Human Rights House – Voronezh (Russia)
Index on Censorship (UK)
Promo LEX Association (Moldova)
Myroslav Marynovych, Vice-Rector for University Mission (Ukrainian Catholic University) Honorary President PEN
Libereco Partnership for Human Rights e.V.
Promo LEX Association (Moldova)
Women of the Don Foundation (Novocherkass, Russia)
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)
NGO ‘Student’s Brotherhood of Ostroh Academy’ (Ukraine)
Polish Legal Clinics Foundation (Poland)
Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (South Africa)
Street Law South Africa (South Africa)
International University College of Turin (Italy)
NGO “Human rights vector”
Open Justice Centre, UK
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (Kazakhstan)