Guilty of “smuggling” and “actions that grossly violate public order”: Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski was sentenced on Friday by a Minsk court to 10 years in a maximum security penal colony.
The founder of the human rights center Viasna (“Spring”), which last year won the prestigious award together with the Russian NGO Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civic Freedoms. His collaborators and co-defendants in the trial, Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich, were sentenced to nine and seven years’ imprisonment, respectively.
The leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called the sentence “frightening”: “We must do everything to fight this shameful injustice and free them,” she wrote on Twitter.
Bialiatski, democracy activist, has been documenting human rights abuses in Belarus since the 1980s. He founded the Viasna organization in 1996 after a referendum that consolidated the authoritarian powers of President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, in his sixth term at the helm of the country.
The human rights situation in Belarus is deteriorating “significantly,” UN expert Anais Marin said yesterday at a meeting on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council. “Independent voices in the country have all been silenced,” she added.
In Belarus there are “at least 1,400 political prisoners, 32 journalists and media workers behind bars and more than 700 civil society organizations forced to close”.
Bialiatski was arrested in 2020 during a major wave of anti-government protests. In awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize, Berit Reiss-Anderson, head of the Norwegian Nobel committee, said the Belarusian government had “tried for years to silence him”.
He was recognized for “the exceptional effort to document war crimes, human rights violations and the abuse of power in his country, in defense of the fundamental rights of citizens”.