Human Rights Activist Jailed for Oppositionist Activities
Belarus, action created 5.8.2011
Ales Bialiatski is a well-known activist and leader of the Human Rights Center Viasna. His organization was derecognized by the Belarusian authorities in 2003, forcing the organization to maintain their finances outside of the country. Bialiatski was arrested in 2011 and imprisoned after unfair trials regarding "concealment of income on a large scale." Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience whose detention is politically motivated and intended to obstruct his legitimate work as a human rights defender.
Major Belarusian human rights defender Ales Bialiatski (50) was arrested in November 2011 and subsequently sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for allegedly concealing substantial income. Amnesty International believes his detention was politically motivated with the sole aim of preventing Bialiatski's further work in defence of human rights in Belarus. Furthermore the trial violated international fair trial standards in several respects.
Bialiatski first opposed the regime when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union. Two years after President Alexander seized power, Bialiatski co-founded the organization Viasna, based in Minsk. It provided financial and legal assistance to local political prisoners. For this work he and his colleagues were supervised by the Belarusian secret service. In 2003, the authorities revoked the recognition of Viasna, limiting its operations against the undemocratic political system.
In 2011 Bialiatski was arrested and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison. His apartment and the headquarters of the organization Viasna were searched and the police confiscated documents, office equipment and computers. Bialiatski was fined and ordered to forfeit his assets, including the apartment where he lived with his wife and son and the apartment that housed his organization. Officially, he was arrested for the use of accounts in Lithuania and Poland, after information relating to these foreign accounts was provided by the authorities of these countries. After it became clear that the persecution of Bialiatski by the Belarusian state was unfounded, the governments of Poland and Lithuania apologized.
After the derecognization of Viasna in 2003, the organization could no longer open bank accounts within Belarus. Since 2003, authorities have repeatedly denied requests for re-registration, forcing representatives of Viasna to open accounts in neighboring nations to finance their human rights activities. Ales argues that opening accounts abroad was inevitable because the government prevented him from managing the money directly in Belarus.
The trial of Bialiatski contained clear elements of a political show trial. The questioning of witnesses frequently did not relate to the charges, but instead to the human rights activities of Ales Bialiatski and the witnesses themselves. Several prominent human rights activists and Human Rights Centre Viasna employees have been interrogated in relation to the case. The evidence presented by the prosecution included copies of bank statements that were not authenticated, and some documents were presented as coming from anonymous informants, which is in violation of Belarusian trial procedures.
In a statement after his sentencing, Bialiatski declared that his trial and the harassment of human rights defenders contravened the country’s constitution and international obligations under the terms of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to which Belarus is a state party, it must support the work of human rights defenders. On 29 November Bialiatski's lawyer filed an appeal against the sentence with the Minsk City Court. On 24 January 2012, the Court upheld the decision of the lower court and turned down the appeal.
The arrest and subsequent sentencing of Ales Bialiatski received widespread media coverage. Many human rights NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, and intergovernmental organisations such as the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly leaders – all expressed concerns about the sentencing of Bialiatski and demand his immediate and unconditional release.
Ales Bialiatski has recieved multiple awards, including the Swedish Per Anger prize, Andrei Sakharov prize, the Homo Homini Award by People in Need, and the 2013 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award. He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, 2007, and 2012.