The Mercury News
Nobel Prize no defense against jail in Belarus
Unsettled by the war in neighboring Ukraine and the increasing militancy of some opposition groups, Belarus on Friday sentenced Ales Bialiatski — a veteran human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October — to 10 years in prison, according to Viasna, the group that he helped found.
Bialiatski, 60, has been a pillar of the human rights movement in Eastern Europe since the late 1980s, when Belarus was part of the Soviet Union. He continued in that role after President Alexander Lukashenko, the country's veteran strongman leader, took power in 1994, revived Soviet-era repression and turned his nation into a Russian satellite state.
Lukashenko, who allowed Belarus to serve as a staging ground for Russia's abortive attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in February 2022, has been under intense pressure from Moscow in recent months to take a more direct role in the war. He has also been unnerved by militant opposition activists in exile, some of whom have joined Ukrainian forces fighting to repel Russia and have threatened to take the fight into Belarus.
An exiled opposition group last week claimed responsibility for an attack on a Russian surveillance aircraft based at a Belarusian military airfield east of Minsk, the capital. Most experts believe the attack was carried out by Ukraine but the incident caused alarm in the Belarusian leadership over potential threats to its tight grip on power.
Andrei Sannikov, an old friend of Bialiatski and a fellow Belarusian human rights activist, said the sentence handed down Friday against a Nobel laureate was part of a drive by authorities to show they will brook no dissent.
A court in Myanmar last year sentenced the country's ousted civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to seven years in prison, on top of an earlier sentence of 26 years. But it is rare for a Nobel Prize winner to be jailed after receiving the prize.
Others including Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo were sent to prison before receiving the award. Lukashenko returned from China this week, after a three-day trip during which he lavished praise on Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader and a staunch ally of President Vladimir Putin of Russia.