Law shift could trap dissenting lecturers

August 4, 2006

University lecturers in Belarus could be charged with corruption under a new law signed last week by Belarusian President Alaksandr Lukashenka.

The law expands the list of professions whose members could risk such charges. Other categories include members of the Council of the Republic (the upper chamber of Parliament), managers at non-governmental organisations, healthcare professionals, officials of foreign and international organisations and presidential candidates.

Corruption, in the form of bribes to gain university entrance or pass exams, was endemic in higher education in the Soviet Union and persists in virtually all post-Soviet states. But in Belarus, charges of corruption have been brought against people who voice views contrary to the regime's.

One case was that of Yuri Bandazheuski, rector of Gomel Medical Institute, whose work on fallout from the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 cast doubts on the official government statistics.

He was accused of taking bribes from applicants to the institute. He was sentenced to eight years (later cut to five). He was released early on health grounds, last year; he is now in Clermont-Ferrand, in France, which is twinned with the city of Gomel.

Another notable case involves Alaksandr Kazulin, rector of the Belarusian State University, who in 2003 was dismissed on grounds of involvement in the misappropriation of money earned by a university enterprise. His real offence, his supporters say, was that he failed to deliver the student vote for President Lukashenka in 2001.

Mr Kazulin stood for president in March; two weeks ago he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for "hooliganism" and "incitement to mass disorder", in connection with protests alleging election-rigging.

Belarusian academics now fear many more cases in the future.

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