Student expelled over calendar

March 3, 2006

A Belarusian university student has been expelled for possessing 5,000 pocket calendars bearing a photograph of academic Alaksandar Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate in this month's presidential elections.

Yauhien Skrabutan, a third- year student of philology at Grodno University, was found guilty of "illegal electioneering" and the distribution of "unauthorised material". He was fined 290,000 roubles (£75) by the town court in Masty.

The calendars make no explicit reference to the March 19 election, but feature a photo of Mr Milinkevich, the candidate for a coalition of five opposition parties, and the words "I love Belarus".

Repeating slogans used by any of the three challengers for the presidency can be officially interpreted as denigrating the incumbent, Alaksandr Lukashenka, an offence punishable by a prison sentence. For students, a conviction is almost automatically followed by expulsion.

Mr Skrabutan, who is a member of the initiative group backing Mr Milinkevich's candidacy, is appealing against the conviction and the expulsion. He said he was not even present at the meeting at which he was expelled.

The dean's office announced that this was Mr Skrabutan's second illegal act. He had already been expelled in 2004 for painting a (political) graffito, but had managed to win back his place.

Mr Milinkevich was a physics lecturer at Grodno until he lost his post in 2001 for pro-democracy activities. "I still miss my teaching," he told a news conference.

Meanwhile, the clampdown on student and youth political activity continues.

Many students have reported receiving warnings from their deans that anyone taking part in symbolic "solidarity" actions, such as wearing denim armbands or switching off their light and putting a lighted candle in the window, could face "difficulties" in their university careers.

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