PARTY

UJ in bed with Belarusian university

As Freedom House ranks Belarus most unfree country in Europe

JOHANNESBURG - The University of Johannesburg recently made the headlines when its Senate decided to terminate its relationship with Ben Gurion University, in Israel, if various stringent demands were not met. Curiously, UJ has not acted with such alacrity in re-examining its relationship with the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU), located in Minsk, Belarus - the country with the worst human rights record in Europe. Below is an extract from the UJ website on its relationship with BNTU, followed by an extract from Freedom House's report on Belarus (note what it says about academic freedom in that country.)

From the University of Johannesburg website:

Belarus 

In October 2008, a UJ delegation visited the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU) in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss aspects of the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2006. In particular the delegation wished to engage colleagues at BNTU on the issues of intellectual property and commercialisation.

The Belarusian National Technical University, a leading engineering higher educational institution, is a large research and innovation centre with 15 faculties, 103 departments and a faculty of pre-university education training. An agreement was reached on the development of joint research laboratories and secondment of engineering faculty members from BNTU. These will both extend our research capabilities and assist in creating capacity at teaching and research levels.

As a follow-up to the UJ visit, a delegation from the Belarusian National Technical University came to UJ in March 2009. An agreement was reached to establish an international joint laboratory for the purposes of joint research and development between faculty members and research specialists of both institutions in the areas of engineering, natural science, and technology. A working programme for this research collaboration was signed at the end of the visit. The agreement also stated the intention that a communiqué regarding areas of cooperation and publications be sent by both parties through Offices of the Directors: Internationalisation.

Institution: Belarusian National Technical University
UJ Partners: General

Source: www.uj.ac.za

Extract from 2010 Freedom House Report on Belarus:

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Belarus is not an electoral democracy. Serious and widespread irregularities have marred all recent elections. The 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of the bicameral National Assembly, are popularly elected for four years on the basis of single-mandate constituencies. The upper house, the Council of the Republic, consists of 64 members serving four-year terms; 56 are elected by regional councils and 8 are appointed by the president. The constitution vests most power in the president, giving him control over the government, courts, and even the legislative process by stating that presidential decrees have a higher legal force than ordinary legislation. The National Assembly serves largely as a rubber-stamp body. The president is elected for five-year terms, and there are no term limits.

With power concentrated in the presidency, parties play a negligible role in the political process. Opposition parties have no representation in the National Assembly, while pro-presidential parties serve only superficial functions. Young members of opposition parties claim that they are drafted into the military because of their political views. A 2009 law makes it illegal for soldiers to belong to political parties, forcing these opposition members to give up their affiliations. Amendments to the electoral law adopted in 2009 give the parties more opportunities to campaign but still do not provide for a transparent vote count.

Corruption is fed by the state's dominance of the economy and the overall lack of transparency and accountability in government. Belarus was ranked 139 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka systematically curtails press freedom. Libel is both a civil and a criminal offense, and an August 2008 media law gives the state a monopoly over information about political, social, and economic affairs. The authorities routinely harass and censor independent media outlets, including through physical force and revocation of journalists' credentials. Belarusian national television is completely under the control of the state and does not provide coverage of alternative and opposition views. The state-run press distribution monopoly limits the availability of private newspapers. Under the 2008 media law, the federal government revoked the registration of several independent newspapers toward the end of 2009. The new media law also allowed local authorities to close down independent publications for minor violations. According to the law, the cabinet will exercise control over internet media, which are now legally subject to the same restrictions as traditional media. While the government had not yet applied the internet restrictions in 2009, its ownership of the country's sole internet service provider gives it the power to do so.

Despite constitutional guarantees that "all religions and faiths shall be equal before the law," government decrees and registration requirements have increasingly restricted religious activity. Amendments to the Law on Religions in 2002 provided for government censorship of religious publications and prevented foreign citizens from leading religious groups. The amendments also placed strict limitations on religious groups that have been active in Belarus for fewer than 20 years. The government in 2003 signed a concordat with the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which enjoys a privileged position. The authorities have discriminated against Protestant clergy and ignored anti-Semitic attacks, according to the U.S. State Department.

Academic freedom is subject to intense state ideological pressures, and institutions that use a liberal curriculum, promote national consciousness, or are suspected of disloyalty face harassment and liquidation. Official regulations stipulate immediate dismissal and revocation of degrees for students and professors who join opposition protests. Wiretapping by state security agencies limits the right to privacy.

The Lukashenka government restricts freedom of assembly for critical independent groups. Protests and rallies require authorization from local authorities, who can arbitrarily withhold or revoke permission. When public demonstrations do occur, police frequently break them up and arrest participants, a pattern that was repeated in 2009.

Freedom of association is severely restricted. More than a hundred of the most activenongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were forced to close down between 2003 and 2005. In December 2005, Lukashenka signed amendments to the penal code that criminalized participation in an unregistered or liquidated political party or organization, allowing further punitive measures against groups that refused to shut down. As a result, most human rights activists operating in the country face potential jail terms ranging from six months to two years. Regulations introduced in 2005 ban foreign assistance to NGOs, parties, and individuals deemed to have promoted "meddling in the internal affairs" of Belarus from abroad. The government signaled a slight thaw in December 2008, however, when it registered the Movement for Freedom, an NGO led by former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich. Independent trade unions face harassment, and their leaders are frequently dismissed from employment and prosecuted for peaceful protests. Over 90 percent of workers have fixed-term contracts, meaning the government can dismiss them for any reason when the contract expires.

Although the country's constitution calls for judicial independence, courts are subject to significant executive influence. The right to a fair trial is often not respected in cases with political overtones. Human rights groups continue to document instances of beatings, torture, and inadequate protection during detention in cases involving leaders of the democratic opposition, and their trials are frequently held in secret.

An internal passport system, in which a passport is required for domestic travel and to secure permanent housing, limits freedom of movement and choice of residence. As of January 2008, citizens no longer need a travel permit before going abroad, but the government has created a database that will include nearly 100,000 people who cannot leave the country. The country's command economy severely limits economic freedom.

Source: Freedom House Country Report, 2010 edition

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