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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President

Scholart At Risk published an appeal to Belarusian authorities to release detained student and stop pressure on academical community. Here we publish part of the letter:

 SAR understands that concerns about a fraudulent election triggered mass demonstrations across the country involving hundreds of thousands of protesters. Many of the protests were organized by students. Police responded to nationwide protests by arresting and using violent force against thousands of people. As of May 17, 2021, over 460 students have been detained and over 150 students were expelled from their universities for their alleged participation in protests.[1] Most recently, on May 23, Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk and arrested journalist Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, a European Humanities University (EHU) student who was preparing to defend her master’s thesis. Among the many other detained students are Maryja (also written as Maria and Marfa) Rabkova and Yahor Kanetski (also written as Kanevsky).

Ms. Rabkova is a third-year student at the International Law and European Union Law program at EHU, in Lithuania, and the coordinator of the Volunteer Service at Human Rights Center Viasna. In that capacity, Ms. Rabkova has monitored nationwide protests calling for President Lukashenko’s resignation. On September 17, 2020, officers from the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK), driving in multiple vans, followed Ms. Rabkova and her husband, Vadzim Zharomsky while they were en route home, forced them to pull over, and arrested them. The GUBOPiK officers brought Ms. Rabkova to a detention facility on a charge of “education or other preparation of persons for participation in mass riots or financing such activities” (Article 293 of Belarus’s Criminal Code). Meanwhile, they took Mr. Zharomsky to his and Ms. Rabkova’s apartment, where they conducted a search and seized various personal belongings. The GUBOPiK officers later released Mr. Zharomsky. On September 19, Ms. Rabkova was transferred to Minsk Detention Center No. 1, where she remains as of this letter. On February 11, 2021, Ms. Rabkova received an indictment containing two additional charges: “participating in a criminal organization” (Criminal Code Article 285(2)) and “inciting racial, national, religious or other social hostility by a group of individuals” (Criminal Code Article 130(3)).

Mr. Kanetski is a fifth-year student of the Faculty of Biology at Belarusian State University (BSU), a member of the Belarusian Students’ Association (BSA), and the vice-chairman of the Free Trade Union, a student trade union at BSU. On November 12, 2020, police conducted a series of house raids on the homes of members of the BSA and took five BSA members into custody, including Mr. Kanetski on a charge of “organizing and preparing in group actions that grossly violate public order” (Criminal Code Article 342(1)). According to Mr. Kanetski’s friends and family, officers from the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (KGB) tackled Mr. Kanetski to the floor and confiscated his phone, computer, money, and documents before taking him to the KGB remand prison. On November 20, Mr. Kanetski was transferred to the Minsk Pre-trial Detention Center No. 1, where he has gotten sick at least four times.

I welcome any additional information that may explain these events or clarify my understanding. Absent this, the detention and prosecution of Belarusian students engaged in nonviolent expression suggest a deeply troubling disregard for international standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Not only do these detentions harm the immediate victims; they also threaten to do irreparable harm to Belarus’s higher education sector, by silencing debate that develops society, and by damaging the sector’s international reputation.

I therefore respectfully urge you to prevent any further harm to the students, their institutions, and to the reputation of Belarus’s higher education sector, by directing, through all appropriate means, that responsible authorities immediately release all detained students, cease and dismiss any investigations, prosecutions, or legal, administrative or professional actions undertaken against students in apparent connection to their nonviolent expressive activity. Pending such action, ensure their well-being and access to legal counsel, family, and medical care.

I appreciate your attention to this important matter.

Robert Quinn
Executive Director