BELARUS: EHU student and lecturer spared jail

Anastasiya Palazhanka, 20, a second-year student in political science and European studies at the European Humanities University in Lithuania and recent winner of the International Women of Courage Award, has been given an 18-month suspended prison sentence in Minsk. An EHU lecturer, Aliaksandr Feduta, was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Palazhanka, who was accused of violating paragraphs one and two of article 293 of the criminal code, which refer to the organisation of and participation in 'mass disturbances', had faced imprisonment of up to 15 years.

Anne Lonsdale, a trustee of EHU, said: "The outcome of the court case against EHU student and faculty members is better than it could have been."

She thanked international campaigners, including University World News readers, who helped press for their release.

Students were beaten, detained and expelled from universities in response to protests over the presidential election in December 2010, that saw Alexander Lukashenka elected for a fourth term amidst allegations of electoral fraud. More than 700 opposition activists were arrested, including 11 EHU students, 10 of whom were sentenced to between 10 and 15 days in prison.

In February, higher education ministers from eight European countries wrote to their counterpart in Minsk demanding academic freedom for students and lecturers.

Neither Palazhanka nor Feduta - a lecturer, journalist and political activist - will now go to jail. But they will be put under surveillance for the period of their suspended sentence and will not be able to leave the country.

Palazhanka was awarded the 2011 International Women of Courage Award from United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington in March, but was prevented from attending the ceremony when the Belarusian government imposed travel restrictions pending the criminal case it had brought against her.

She will not be able to continue her course at EHU and will have to try to complete her degree in Belarus, where courses and standards are different.

Feduta will have to look for another job.

EHU was founded in Minsk in 1991 but was closed down in 2005 by the Belarussian government. It re-opened in Vilnius in Lithuania and continues to provide a Western-style education to young Belarussians.

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