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University student petitions for prisoners release

By Megan Walsh, Staff Writer

When Hofstra junior Catherine Ferris took an internship in Washington, D.C. this semester, she didn't know she would end up engaging in a struggle to free people who were sent to jail after a Dec. 19, 2010 "peaceful demonstration" in Belarus against the political leader, President Lukashenko.

"Over 30 people remain in prison, 14 of which are known to be completely innocent. Seven of them are opposition candidates—convenient that they should be arrested at a demonstration the day before the election's tally," Ferris said.

Ferris was informed of the situation through requirements for her work and forwarded e-mails. "No one would have found out if they weren't looking," Ferris said.

An article posted on Amnesty International's website cited other professionals who believed the proceedings of the Belarusian government to be unjust. "The events of the last 24 hours obliterate the fragile signs of openness in the run-up to the presidential election," Amnesty International expert, Heather McGill stated after the demonstration.

The article revealed the violence demonstrated by authorities during the protest: "Eye witnesses stated that opposition leaders called on the demonstrators to remain peaceful. They also reported that the police beat demonstrators and journalists with batons."

In order to help free prisoners, Ferris enlisted the help of many others who have decided to join the fight.  By calling, texting, and sending e-mails, this young leader explained that she is sending a petition with 138 signatures to Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is the chair for the European Affairs Subcommittee.  Ferris said that Shaheen has "greater standing" when it comes to presenting the matter at hand.

"What got me first interested in this movement was Catherine's passion for it. So I looked more into what was going on and it really caught my attention and I thought that something needs to happen to get these people out of prison," said Christine Gagnon, one supporter of Ferris's petition.

Ferris assured she won't quit and encouraged others to stand up for the cause as well. "This isn't over.  It isn't going to be over.  You have power.  People think they're voice doesn't count but that's not true," Ferris said.

To those wishing to express their support for Belarus prisoners, Ferris said. supporters can join the facebook group Free Belarus.

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