In February 2023, the Belarusian Students’ Association (BSA), an organization that represents the unions of 15 Belarusian universities, published an extensive report detailing the state of academic freedom and autonomy of higher education in the year 2022. The report describes the ongoing state-sponsored persecution of Belarusian students and scholars who criticize President Lukashenko’s regime, particularly over the state’s support of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Facing repression in Belarus and stymied scholarship opportunities abroad due to sanctions imposed by neighboring states, students and scholars both in Belarus and in exile have been left with little recourse to freely carry out their studies and continue their academic careers.
President Lukashenko’s decades long rule has cast a shadow over the prospects for democracy and academic freedom in Belarus, especially since the leader’s most recent electoral victory in 2020. Lukashenko’s re-election was ridden with allegations of corruption and election fraud, and the outpouring of protests calling for democratic rule in the aftermath were met with widespread crackdowns that persist even two years later. BSA’s report documents how over the course of 2022, dozens of students, as well as professors, continue to be expelled, arrested, and harshly sentenced for even minor forms of protest activity. For instance, Raman Karpuk, a first-year university student, was handed a three-year sentence in a penal colony for merely mailing leaflets asking that election workers count votes honestly.
Lukashenko has also treated critiques of President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine as “damaging to national interests” and has egregiously punished scholars and students who have expressed solidarity with Ukraine since the invasion began in February 2022. Academic and civic activists have been arrested and given years-long prison sentences for speaking out against Belarusian policies that have allowed Russian troops to strategically use Belarusian territory and launch missiles from the state’s borders. BSA reports that when the war first began, one student was expelled from his university for arriving at a polling station with a Ukrainian flag on his shoulders. Danuta Perednya, a twenty-year-old university student, was also deemed a “terrorist” threat and sentenced to six years in prison for reposting a message online that criticized both Lukashenko and Putin.
Along with the extensive restrictions on the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association faced in their home country, Belarusian students have also struggled to continue their education elsewhere. Nearby countries have developed restrictive visa policies as part of the sanctions imposed on Belarus by the European Union, implemented to punish Belarus for its role in supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. According to BSA, Tallinn University, the University of Tartu, and Tallinn Technical University refused to enroll any Belarusian students in the 2022-2023 academic year, with certain status exceptions. In the summer of 2022, the Czech Republic also extended a ban on visas to Belarusian citizens, including students, so that only Belarusians with family members in the Czech Republic were allowed entry.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating status of academic freedom in Belarus along with unjustifiable repression of Belarusian scholars, students, and civic activists. We condemn the regime’s use of harsh and arbitrary punishments against students and scholars who have called for democracy and peace in nonviolent demonstrations and support BSA’s calls for the cessation of the state’s authoritarian practices and weaponization of violence and fear mongering. ESW also calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights and academic freedom to strongly protest the actions of Lukashenko’s undemocratic regime; to appeal for the release of unjustly detained students and scholars; and to share BSA’s report intended to expose the widespread political repression faced by Belarusian students and scholars.
Please send appeals on behalf of endangered scholars and students to the following:
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus to the United States
1619 New Hampshire Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of Belarus to UN
136 E 67th Street, 4th Fl.
New York, NY 10065
Telephone: (212) 535-3420
Fax: (212) 734-4810
 “Belarus: Country Profile.” Freedom House. 2023.  Ryan Fahey and Will Stewart. “Student, 20, who dared to criticise Vladimir Putin's Ukraine war jailed for SIX years.” Mirror. July 6 2022.  Farai Mutsaka. “Lukashenko: Belarus willing to offer more help to Russia.” AP News. January 31, 2023.  Ryan Fahey and Will Stewart. Ibid.