(Photo by VITALY PIVOVARCHIK/BELTA/AFP via Getty Images)
OAN Roy Francis
10:41 PM PT – Friday, March 3, 2023
A court in Belarus sentenced Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in prison for his alleged involvement in trying to overthrow the government.
Bialiatski was among the thousands of people who were detained in Belarus during a brutal crackdown on protests against the rule of Alexander Lukashenko. The protests were a result of the disputed national election of 2020.
A Minsk court found that Bialiatski, along with his three colleagues Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovicz, and Dzmitry Saluyou, were guilty of smuggling money from abroad to fund the antigovernmental demonstrations. He received 10 years in prison, while Stefanovich received nine years, Labkovicz seven years and Salauyou eight years.
All four had denied the charges levelled against them and maintained their innocence. The case has been widely viewed as political payback for Viasna’s, Bialiatski’s organization, push for democratic reforms in Belarus. Bialiatski received last year’s Nobel Peace Prize due to his organization’s efforts which he had shared with the Russian right group Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties.
Viasna is a human rights organization in Belarus that was founded in order to “contribute to development of the civic society in Belarus, based on respect to human rights.”
Lukashenko is a long time ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also backed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and has ruled the ex-Soviet country since 1994. During the protests following the 2020 election, more than 35,000 people were arrested, and thousands were beaten by police amid the largest protests that the country has seen.
Memorial, the Russian human rights group, denounced the verdict as “an undisguised lawless reprisal for their human rights activities as part of a campaign of terror against civil society and the entire people of Belarus.”
Oleg Orlov, the co-chair of Memorial was barred from entering Belarus to support Bialiatski. He had attempted to fly in but was prevented from boarding the plane, and informed that he was not allowed enter the country.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who had lost the presidential election that triggered the 2020 protests denounced the ruling of the court. She called it “payback from a vengeful dictator.”
The shameful sentence against Ales, Valiantsin & Uladzimir is the regime’s revenge for their steadfastness. Revenge for solidarity. Revenge for helping others. Ten years for a @NobelPrize laureate shows clearly what Lukashenka’s regime is. We won’t stop fighting for our heroes. pic.twitter.com/5FHLSShqMh
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) March 3, 2023
“The shameful sentence against Ales, Valiantsin & Uladzimir is the regime’s revenge for their steadfastness. Revenge for solidarity. Revenge for helping others. Ten years for a Nobel Prize laureate shows clearly what Lukashenka’s regime is,” she said. “We won’t stop fighting for our heroes.”
Many western leaders were also outraged at the ruling. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee stated that it was “shocked by the cynicism behind the sentences.”
Annalena Baerbock the German Foreign Minister labeled the sentencing as a “farce.”
“This is just as much a daily disgrace as Lukashenko’s support for Putin’s war,” Baerbock said. “We call for the end of political persecution and freedom for the more than 1,400 political prisoners.”
The Council of Europe rights and United Nations Human Rights spokesperson also condemned the verdict as politically motivated.
During his final address to the court Bialiatski urged an end to the civil war in Belarus. He also said that it was “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.”