Eleven students and one professor from universities in Minsk were arrested in November 2020 and now face potential prison sentences up to at least two years. The reason: they participated in peaceful protests in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Furthermore, a number of university members have been detained, expelled from their institutions, and fined for participating in the protests.
I am writing this blog to express solidarity with the students and staff members in Belarus who have been unjustly punished. Karolinska Institutet stands behind The European University Association (EUA), the European Students’ Union (ESU) and Scholars at Risk (SAR), stating that “All citizens, including students and university staff have the right to free expression, assembly, and protest.”
The arrests undermine democracy
Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory despite mounting evidence of electoral fraud. Fraud or not: students have the right to express their views on any topic. Academic freedom should not be seen as a privilege for the few but as a benefit for the many. Attacking academic freedom is tantamount to undermining democracy and societal development.
Violations of democratic rights must stop
It is of utmost importance that the Belarusian authorities protect and promote academic freedom and that European governments exert pressure on the Belarusian authorities to stop violations of human and democratic rights. The Swedish Government has clearly condemned the action of the Belarusian authorities and the EU must continue to demand that violence and oppression cease.
Free exchange of ideas and thoughts
It goes without saying: progress depends on a free exchange of ideas and thoughts, on an open debate arena where divergent opinions can be voiced and heard, and on research and education unfettered by political interference or ideological intrusions. To fulfil their roles, universities should serve as a critic and conscience of society. The message to the Belarusian authorities is loud and clear: stop your attacks on academic freedom.
Development in Afghanistan
And now we must follow the development in Afghanistan with due vigilance. The society must not slide into a repressive past. Universities must be kept open and women must be allowed to study and develop their full potential, as in any civilized society. Much has been invested in support of women’s rights in Afghanistan over the past two decades. It would be tragic if these investments were to no avail.
Note. KI has no formal collaborative research agreements with universities or other institutions in Belarus