Political fealty - or exam failure

January 27, 2006

Students at universities in Belarus claim they have been told that they may take exams only if they agree to sign a nomination form for President Alaksandr Lukashenka, who is seeking re-election in March.

The Belarussian human rights centre Viasna reported that students taking an exam at the (private) Belarussian Institute of Jurisprudence were informed by a representative of the dean's office that they had to sign a nomination form for President Lukashenka. One student was told that if he did not he would not be allowed to resit an exam.

Students at the Belarus State Teacher Training University who refused to sign the document were summoned to the dean's office, where they were threatened by police.

One of the students who refused to sign was assaulted by a uniformed officer, according to a letter sent by fellow students to human rights group Charter 97.

Since the announcement of the date of the national election, there have been a number of reports of pressure on students by government agents, usually coupled with an open or tacit threat of expulsion from their university and eviction from their hostels.

The case of Taciana Khoma has caused many to fear that such threats will be carried out. Ms Khoma was expelled last November from the Belarus State Economic University and turned out of her hostel into a snowstorm after attending a European student conference in France.

In Brest, students were banned from the streets during a visit by the united democratic opposition candidate, Alaksandr Milinkevich. Campaign workers for another candidate, Alaksandr Kazulin, a former rector of the Belarussian State University in Minsk, said they were prevented from entering a student hostel in Grodno, although the students had invited them in.

Observers believe that the Belarus authorities fear a revolution along the lines of recent democratic victories in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

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