SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 29, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Belarusian State University

Region & Country:Europe | Belarus

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 30, 2021, police arrested Belarusian State University (BSU) law student Katsiaryna Vinnikava (Екатерины Винниковой), in apparent retaliation for a speech she gave at the law school’s graduation ceremony.

On June 29, Vinnikava delivered a speech during the BSU law school graduation ceremony during which she expressed support for two former BSU law professors, Elena Basalay and Alena Laeyuskaya (see report), who were dismissed from the university based on political considerations related to the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. Vinnikava thanked the professors for showing, by example, “what law is and who a lawyer is,” and described current difficulties facing Belarusian lawyers.

The following day, on June 30, Vinnikava was summoned to the Leninsky District Department of Internal Affairs in Minsk to answer questions related to her speech. According to Amnesty International, Vinnikava was interrogated for seven hours, during which she was denied access to a lawyer, and kept in jail overnight. Authorities charged Vinnikava with violating Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, for “holding an unauthorized meeting.” On July 1, authorities conducted a search of Vinnikava’s dorm room and seized her laptop. The next day, Vinnikava was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a student for nonviolent, on-campus exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against students’ exercise of the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, the use of arrests and other legal actions to restrict or retaliate against student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Correction (December 2, 2021): An earlier version of this report referred to Katsiaryna Vinnikava as “Ekaterina Vinnikova,” an incorrect transliteration of her Belarusian name.