Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski sentenced to 10 years in prison in Belarus
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A Belarusian court on Friday sentenced Ales Bialiatski, Belarus’ top human rights defender and one of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, to 10 years in prison.
Bialiatski and three other figures from the Viasna human rights center he founded were found guilty of funding actions that undermine public order and smuggling, Viasna reported on Friday.
Valiantsin Stefanovich was sentenced to nine years in prison; Uladzimir Labkovicz seven years; and Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia.
Bialiatski and two of his associates were arrested and jailed after massive protests against a 2020 election that re-elected authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Salauyou managed to leave Belarus before being arrested.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet country with an iron fist since 1994, has unleashed a brutal crackdown on protesters, the largest in the country’s history. Over 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten by the police.
During the trial, which was held behind closed doors, Bialiatski, 60, and his colleagues were held in a caged enclosure in the courtroom. They have spent 21 months behind bars since their arrest.
In courtroom photos released Friday by the Belarusian state news agency Belta, Bialiatksi, dressed in black clothes, looked pale, but calm.
Viasna said after the verdict that the four activists have maintained their innocence.
In his last speech in court, he urged the authorities to “stop the civil war in Belarus”. Bialiatski said it became clear to him from the files that “the investigators were carrying out the task entrusted to them: to deprive the human rights defenders of Viasna of their freedom at all costs, to destroy Viasna and to arrest our work”.
Belarusian opposition leader in exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Friday denounced the court’s verdict as “appalling”. “We must do everything to fight this shameful injustice (and) free them,” Tsikhaouskaya wrote in a tweet.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental organization working for the respect of human rights in practice, said it was “shocked by the cynicism behind the sentences which have just been pronounced against our Belarusian friends in Minsk”. .
“The trial shows how the Lukashenka regime punishes our fellow human rights defenders for standing up against oppression and injustice,” Secretary General Berit Lindeman said in a statement.
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