Belarus: Human rights advocates’ sentencing is “blatant punishment” for their advocacy
Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of the Viasna human rights center and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, received a sentence of ten years in prison. His colleague Valiantsin Stefanovich, the vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights and vice-chair of Viasna, received a sentence of nine years. Uladzimir Labkovich, the lawyer for Viasna, received a sentence of seven years in prison.
“This politically motivated trial is a fraud and is being held as punishment for Viasna’s human rights activities. Their conviction deals yet another blow to Belarus’ already severely suppressed civil society and its worrying human rights situation. It’s a malicious act of injustice that needs the authorities’ quick attention.
“These courageous human rights advocates never had the opportunity to participate in a fair trial. When brought in by an officer, they were handcuffed and kept in a cage during the trial. They weren’t given any time to educate themselves with the case papers, the judge conducted proceedings in Russian rather than Belarusian, and they were being tried on false charges. We cannot allow them to suffer because of the despicable political objective pursued by the Belarusian government. We demand their unconditional and immediate release.
Bialiatski Stefanovich and Labkovich, have been falsely charged with “smuggling large sums of money and financing group activities that grossly violated public order”. They have all been held in custody since July 2021, while exiled co-defendant Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to eight years in absentia.
The prosecution claims that they smuggled at least 201,000 Euros and 54,000 US Dollars across the border and used these funds to finance “unlawful” protest activities.
During and after mass and overwhelmingly peaceful protests against widely alleged electoral fraud in 2020, Viasna was instrumental in documenting and reporting widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment and unfair trials.