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Belarus court jails Nobel winner Bialiatski for 10 years

March 3, 2023

Ales Bialiatski is the founder of Viasna, the country's most prominent human rights group. Germany has described the sentencing as a "disgrace."

Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiatski is seen in the defendants' cage in the courtroom at the start of the hearing in Minsk on January 5
Ales Bialiatski founded the human rights group ViasnaImage: Vitaly Pivovarchik/BELTA/AFP/Getty Images

A court in Belarus on Friday handed 2022 Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiatski a 10-year prison sentence, his rights group said.

The pro-democracy activist and three other members of the Viasna human rights center were convicted of smuggling money and financing opposition protests in the country. 

While Bialiatski got 10 years, deputy chair of the Viasna group Valiantsin Stefanovich received "nine years in a medium-security penal colony," the rights center said on its website.

Campaign coordinator Uladzimir Labkovicz was given seven years, while "human rights defender Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony (in absentia)," Viasna added.

'Fake trial,' says opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya

Exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya criticized the ruling, saying that the 60-year-old Bialiatski and his co-defendants had been sentenced in a "fake trial."

"We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice and free them," she added.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's life in exile

Bialiatski's wife Natalya Pinchuk called the sentencing of her husband and his associates "cruel" and "horrific."

International condemnation

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the jail terms were a "disgrace" and an example of Belarus' "violence" against civil rights.

Baerbock described the proceedings as a "farce," adding the defendants were being punished merely for their "years-long fight for the rights, dignity and freedom of the people of Belarus."

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also condemned the sentencing.

Nobel Peace Prize committe chief Berit Reiss-Anersen that "the court case and the accusations against him are politically motivated."

The French Foreign Ministry joined in the international rebuke of the proceeings. 

"This verdict is another example of the unprecedented policy of repression by the Belarus authorities against a peaceful protest movement that emerged after the fraudulent presidential election of August 9, 2020, and against any voices criticising the Belarus government," the foreign ministry said in a statement," the ministry said in a statement.

More than 1,000 political prisoners in Belarus

Some 1,500 people in Belarus are in prison for political reasons, according to rights groups. Many of those behind bars have been arrested since the suppression of the 2020 protests which erupted after strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko declared himself president amid accusations of fraud from his opponents and the West.

Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for his work on human rights and democracy. He shared it with Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.

jsi,es/nm (AFP, Reuters)