September 24—Four European Humanities University (EHU) students, one alum, and one faculty member were among a group of election observers detained by authorities a day after parliamentary elections in Belarus.
EHU students Maryia Sliaptsova, Ales Herasimenka, Tamara Lutskaya, Alena Zhebryk; EHU alum Anastasiya Matchanka; and EHU political science lecturer Tatsiana Chulitskaya were detained Monday at the Jazz Hostel in Minsk, where they were discussing the results of last Sunday's parliamentary elections. They were taken to a police station where they were searched, their fingerprints were taken, then, after a few hours, they were released without charges or questioning.
"What happend is just proof that election observation in needed in Belarus," said Matchanka, following her release.
All were participating in Election Observation: Theory and Practice (EOTP)—a joint project of EHU, Belarus Watch, and Belarusian Human Rights House. EOTP provides participants with first-hand experience and an understanding of free and democratic elections. Participants study election processes and monitor elections in various countries. They then apply what they have learned by monitoring elections in Belarus.
The group of election observers, which included 15 EHU students, monitored elections at more than 60 polling stations in Minsk and at regional centers during early voting and on election day. They reported that voter-turnout reports were being falsified (exaggerated), some voters were clearly being coerced to vote, and some were voting at more than one location (so-called "carousel voting"). University students were told they may face problems during exams or may not be given dorm rooms if they fail to vote, stated an observer who requested anonymity.
Authorities seem to have been concerned that insufficient voter turnout would invalidate the election.
“In Minsk at one time observers counted six voters had showed up to vote, but the election commission reported 66 voters. In other places, the commission’s report on turnout was five-to-ten times higher," said an observer.
"We deplore the detention of these young people for no apparent reason other than for exercising their civic rights and duties," said EHU's Rector Anatoli Mikhailov.
Speaking at an EOTP press conference on Tuesday, September 25 in Vilnius, Matchanka said that, based on what she and others observed, she doubted whether there was sufficient turnout for the election to be valid. She noted that poll workers were observed falsifying participation data. When pressed, many said they were "just doing their job".
Opposition groups had urged citizens to boycott the elections in protest of government restrictions on campaigning, interference, and fraud. For elections to be considered valid, 50% of eligible voters must participate. Following the vote, the country's Central Election Commission declared that the threshhold had been met.
Full report of the observation mission can be accessed here.