Belarus court sentences Nobel laureate to 10 years in prison

Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski was convicted of smuggling and financing ‘actions grossly violating public order’

NEW DELHI | Updated: 03 March, 2023 10:10 pm IST
Ales Bialiatski, winner of 2022 Nobel Prize of Peace

During a hearing on Friday, Belarus’ top human rights advocate and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ales Bialiatski, was sentenced to ten years in prison.

According to reports, Bialiatski and three other top figures from the Viasna Human Rights Centre he founded were convicted of funding illegal activities and smuggling.

Valiantsin Stefanovich was given a nine-year sentence, Uladzimir Labkovicz seven years and Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia.

The arrests of Bialiatski and two of his associates followed massive protests over the 2020 election that granted a new term to President Alexander Lukashenko. Salauyou managed to leave Belarus before he was arrested.

During the trial, which took place behind closed doors, the 60-year-old Bialiatski and his colleagues were held in a caged enclosure in the courtroom. They have spent 21 months behind bars since the arrest.

Reportedly, all four activists have maintained their innocence after the verdict.

In his final address to the court, he urged the authorities to “stop the civil war in Belarus.” Bialiatski said it became obvious to him from the case files that “the investigators were fulfilling the task they were given: to deprive Viasna human rights advocates of freedom at any cost, destroy Viasna and stop our work.”

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya denounced the court verdict on Friday as “appalling.” “We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice (and) free them,” Tsikhaouskaya wrote in a tweet.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental organisation working to ensure that human rights are respected in practice, said that it was “shocked by the cynicism behind the sentences that were just issued to our Belarusian friends in Minsk.”

“The trial shows how Lukashenka’s regime punishes our colleagues, human rights defenders, for standing up against oppression and injustice,” Secretary General Berit Lindeman said in a statement.

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