Bison activists hunted by rival

September 28, 2001

Reprisals have begun against student activists after the re-election of the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko as president of Belarus.

The Zubr (Bison) movement campaigned for his rival the "united opposition" candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk. One student, Zmitsier Bukatau, has been expelled from the Mahileu Pedagogic-Technical Institute. Two other students from the institute, Alexander Kalita and Alexander Paulovich, have been censured by its academic council.

The latter two took part in satirical street performances organised by the Zubr student group. Paulovich also faces criminal charges for "insulting the [incumbent] president".

Two other members of Zubr, Ivan Panuyutich and Nadzia Suleymanava, have been prosecuted for taking part in an anti-Lukashenko performance in August. Panuyutich received a formal reprimand and Suleymanava was fined.

At the Mahileu State University, two students of modern languages have been suspended for "poor academic performance". They had worked as interpreters for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe election monitors.

Other instances of post-election actions against Zubr members have been reported. In Krasnapolye, a Zubr activist, Uladzimir Zhukau, had his flat searched by police without a warrant. He was taken to court and reprimanded for sticking up Hancharyk's posters in the street.

The clampdown came after claims by Michael Kozak, US ambassador to Belarus, that Zubr was set up on his initiative, at his expense, and with his assistance in arranging meetings with leaders of the Serbian student opposition movement Otpor.

Zubr leaders acknowledge that Otpor served as their model, and that they regularly informed western embassies of their activities. The ambassador has been threatened with expulsion from Belarus.

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