Reacting to the news that Katsyaryna Vinnikava, a student of the Law Faculty of the Belarusian State University, has been sentenced to 15 days’ arrest by the Belarusian authorities after giving a graduation speech in which she honoured past staff members and graduates who have faced reprisals for their support of peaceful protesters and opposition to political repression, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:
“The Belarusian authorities have once again shown their determination to stifle all dissent. The latest target is a young woman whose supposed crime was to profess respect for rights and justice in front of her university peers.
“Katsyaryna Vinnikava must be released immediately and unconditionally, and all proceedings against her must be terminated. The Belarusian authorities must stop fighting their own people and put an end to politically motivated repression by releasing everyone who has been deprived of their liberty solely for exercising their human rights.”
On 29 June, Katsyaryna Vinnikava gave a graduation speech which included the words: “I wish each of us to love, defend and stand up for the rule of law with the honour and dignity of a real lawyer, regardless of the current difficulties and the difficulties that are to come. Know the law, believe in the law. […] Please remember that law is the art of kindness and justice. And kindness, reason and human dignity together always win.”
She also honoured former faculty staff members and lawyers that have “shown by their example who a lawyer was and what law was”, including former professors Alena Basalay and Alena Layeuskaya, sacked for their views, and lawyer Maksim Znak, who was arrested in September 2020 under charges of “conspiracy to seize power” and “creation of an extremist group.”
According to Katsyaryna Vinnikava’s friends, on 30 June, she was summoned to the Leninsky District Department of Internal Affairs in Minsk, interrogated for seven hours, and detained the following morning. She was not allowed access to her lawyer. Katsyaryna Vinnikava was charged with “holding an unauthorized rally” (Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences). On 1 July, the dormitory room where she lives was searched, and her laptop was confiscated.