Belarus hands Nobel Prize winner 10-year jail sentence
Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a court in Belarus yesterday, in a ruling that has drawn widespread criticism.
The pro-democracy activist and founder of the Viasna human rights group, which provided legal and financial help to
protesters during a wave of unrest in 2020, was convicted of financing protests and tax evasion along with three others.
The 60-year-old and his colleagues – Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich – were arrested in 2020 on charges connected to Viasna’s provision of money to political prisoners and helping pay their legal fees. However, in September 2022, more charges were filed for “smuggling” and “financing of group actions grossly violating public order”.
The 2022 Nobel Prize Winner said he is being persecuted for political reasons, with many human rights groups arguing that the trial against him was politically motivated. German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock tweeted that the legal proceedings against the activists “were a farce”, adding: “The Minsk regime is fighting civil society with force and prison. This is just as much a daily disgrace as Lukashenko’s support for Putin’s war. We call for the end of political persecution and freedom for the more than 1,400 political prisoners.”
The official Nobel Prize Twitter account tweeted about Mr Bialiatski’s sentencing quoting a line from his lecture. “It just so happens that people who value freedom the most are often deprived of it. But it also shows that the regime in Belarus does not tolerate freedom of expression and opposition ... We regret that he has to continue his fight by being held in jail.”
“Ales Bialiatski is one of the foremost fighters for democracy, freedom and human rights in Belarus,” Norwegian Nobel Committee leader Berit Reiss-Andersen told Reuters. “The court case and the accusations against him are politically motivated.” He added: “The case, the verdict against him, is a tragedy for him personally.” Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the sentencing was “simply appalling”. “We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice and free them,” she said.
Mr Bialiatski is one of several opposition figures who have been targeted by Belarusian authorities in recent months. Rights groups have estimated that around 1,500 people are currently being held as political prisoners in Belarus, with many having
been arrested during the government’s crackdown on the protests.
Belarus saw widespread protests in 2020 against the government after the disputed re-election of president Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994. The election was denounced as fraudulent by the opposition and the West, and Mr Lukashenko’s regime responded with a violent crackdown against protesters. The 2020 protests continued for several months and constituted the biggest wave of demonstrations in Belarus. More than 35,000 individuals were apprehended during this period, and thousands were subjected to police brutality.
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