Thursday, July 25, 2024

Ales Bialiatsky: Nobel Prize-winning activist sentenced to 10 years in prison

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Pictured by Ales Bialiatski in November 2021

A Belarusian court has sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatsky to 10 years in prison.

The Vyasna Human Rights Group said he was guilty of trafficking and financing “activities that seriously violate public order”.

Supporters of Mr Byaliatsky, 60, say the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is trying to silence him.

Mr Pialiatsky is one of three winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Bialiatski was in court with two fellow campaigners, Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich.

Mr Stefanovich was sentenced to nine years in prison, according to Vyasna, the group Mr Pialiatsky founded in 1996.

All three pleaded not guilty.

Natalya Pinchuk, Mr Bialiatsky’s wife, said the trial was “an open tribute to the human rights work of human rights defenders”, describing it as a “cruel” verdict.

Referring to her husband’s letters from prison, since his arrest, she said: “He always writes that everything is fine, he doesn’t complain about his health – he tries to upset me.”

Kostya Staradubets, a spokesman for Vyasna, said the sentences handed down to the three activists “break our hearts”.

Speaking on the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme, he said: “We know that all three of our colleagues will get long prison terms, but it’s still shocking, it breaks our hearts, and not only that. [prison] The terms were long but the conditions were terrible.

Svetlana Dikhanovskaya, Belarus’s exiled opposition leader, said the sentence was “simply terrible”.

“We must do everything to fight this shameful injustice and free them,” he said.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize, described the verdict as a “tragedy” for Mr Bialiatski and the allegations as “politically motivated”.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach described the charges as a “farce”, saying the trio had been punished for “years of struggle for the rights, dignity and freedom of the people of Belarus”.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the verdict “another disgraceful decision by a Belarusian court in recent times”, calling for the release of “those who were unjustly convicted” in a post on Facebook.

His comments represent Poland’s latest condemnation of the Belarusian judiciary. Poland expelled the Belarusian security liaison from the country last month following the trial and imprisonment of Belarusian-Polish journalist Andrzej Poczobut.

According to Vyasna, there are currently 1,458 political prisoners in Belarus. Officials say no.

In awarding the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Bialiatsky, Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the Belarusian government had been “trying to silence him for years”.

“He’s been harassed, he’s been arrested and jailed, and he’s lost his job,” she said.

Mr Bialiatsky is a veteran of the human rights movement in Belarus, having founded Vyasna in 1996 in response to a brutal crackdown on street protests that year by Mr Lukashenko, who has been Belarus’s president since the office was established in 1994.

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Watch: Highlights of the Belarusian leader’s exclusive interview with the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg from 2021.

Mr Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been described as Europe’s last dictator.

Increasingly dependent on Moscow for economic, political and military support, he has hosted Russian forces and allowed Belarus to be used as a staging ground for aggression against Ukraine.

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