Videos used to halt activists

January 28, 2000

State university leaders in Belarus are helping security services to identify students at anti-government demonstrations, filmed on police videos shot at protests in Minsk and other cities.

After circulating the films to faculty deans, lists are made of the students who escape arrest at the frequent protests against the president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Student activists are threatened with dismissal from university courses unless they quit their opposition activities.

The collusion between state university rectors and the police in Belarus is one of the key abuses of academic freedom identified by human rights campaigners in Minsk and Moscow.

Malcolm Hawkes, a Moscow-based researcher for independent body Human Rights Watch, said: "There is a clear connection between the state university authorities and law enforcement agencies in Belarus. If a student is detained, just as in Soviet times, his university is informed. It's got to the point where if a student is arrested the police will tell him he is going to be expelled. The police are working hand in glove with the state universities."

Luba Lunyova, a Minsk-based human rights activist, said the latest list of students was drawn up after large anti-government demonstrations in October.

Ms Lunyova is now a reporter for United States-backed Radio Liberty in Minsk after being dismissed from a university teaching job for her opposition activities.

She said police videos were circulated at Belarus State University, Minsk, and other institutions. The tapes were passed on to faculty deans who were asked to identify any of their students caught on film.

"Students identified on the film were called before their deans and told that if a special order was issued they would be dismissed from the university," she said.

The threat to dismiss students had not yet been carried out, partially as the result of pressure subsequently put on Belarus by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which urged President Lukashenko to negotiate with the opposition, following a summit in Istanbul in November.

The protests that followed December's signing in Moscow of a draft union treaty between Belarus and Russia were less well attended than earlier ones.

The treaty, designed to begin the reunification of the two countries eight years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, will create a joint body and pave the way for tax, customs, currency and defence harmonisation in the next five years.

Opposition academics - whose work on the history of the independence movement has been subjected to sustained censorship in the past three years - see the treaty as marking the end of Belarussian attempts to obtain the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by neighbouring Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

"The outlook for academic freedom in Belarus is pretty bleak," said Mr Hawkes.

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