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Belarus opposition urges release of Nobel winner Bialiatski

October 7, 2022

Opponents of Minsk strongman Alexander Lukashenko say they hope the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to activist Ales Bialiatski might help precipitate his release from prison.

Ales Bialiatski
Biliatski remains in prison without trial after protests two years agoImage: Fucarin/Fotogramma/ROPI/picture alliance

A spokesman for the Belarusian opposition on Friday said he hoped the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski could bring about his release.

Bialiatski, who remains in jail without trial after protests in 2020 against the reelection of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, was the only individual honored with a Nobel Peace Prize also awarded to the Russian organization Memorial and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.

What did the opposition say?

Opposition spokesman Franak Viacorka said the award was a recognition for all Belarusians who had stood up to Lukashenko and his authoritarian regime.

"They deserve all the prizes in the world," said Viacorka, chief of staff to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Viacorka went on to add that the prize should attract attention to the plight of all political prisoners, including Bialiatski.

"He's kept in inhuman conditions and we hope it will help to release him and thousands of others from Lukashenko's and the KGB's cells," Viacorka said.

Tsikhanouskaya herself, a friend of Bialiatski, told the AP news agency that she thought the prize could have an indirect influence on Bialiatski's fate.

"Physically, you know, this prize will not influence their situation but I am sure it [will] influence the moods and intentions of other countries to help those people who are behind bars,'' she said.

Nobel Peace Prize to activists from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine

The Nobel Prize committee itself also called for Bialiatski's release.

"He is still detained without trial. Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr. Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus", the Nobel committee said.

The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Berit Reiss-Andersen said she hoped Bialiatski would be able to receive the award himself at a ceremony in December in Norway.

"We do hope... that he can come to Oslo and receive the honor bestowed upon him," she said.

Who is Ales Bialiatski?

Bialiatski was one among those who led the democracy movement in Belarus in the mid-1980s, but he has kept up his campaign for human rights and civil liberties in the country. 

The now 60-year-old was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014 and arrested again after massive more recent demonstrations against Lukashenko's regime.

Bialiatski was the founder of the non-governmental organization Human Rights Center Viasna and was the 2020  recipient of a Right Livelihood Award, sometimes referred to as the "Alternative Nobel."

Other reactions to the winners

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen hailed the "courage" of Bialiatski and the two organizations that won the prize.

"The Nobel Prize committee has recognized the outstanding courage of the women and men standing against autocracy. They show the true power of civil society in the fight for democracy," von der Leyen tweeted. 

Memorial itself said on Friday said the award recognized the work of colleagues who continue to suffer "unspeakable attacks and reprisals" in Russia.

"It encourages us in our resolve to support our Russian colleagues to continue their work at a new location, despite the forced dissolution of MEMORIAL International in Moscow," Memorial board member Anke Giesen told Reuters news agency.

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the laureates, saying that their prize "pays homage to unwavering defenders of human rights in Europe."

Poland's Foreign Ministry also said it welcomed the recognition given to the winners.  

"We welcome the recognition of their efforts in the fight for freedom and respect for human rights," the ministry said on Twitter on Friday.

However, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the Nobel committee in a tweet, saying it has an "interesting understanding of word 'peace' if representatives of two countries that attacked a third one receive Nobel Prize together."

"Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war," he added.

But the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich told DW, "Today’s decision of the Nobel Committee shows the view of people in the West that Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians have their own heroes."

"I have already received calls from Ukraine. I understand the despair of Ukrainians who are shelled and whose friends die every day. They say they are not happy with this decision as an effort to reconcile all three nations," she said. "Probably they have their reasons to think so. But I can’t imagine at this point how individuals can do something if the whole society is not active."

ab, rc/sms (dpa, AFP, AP Reuters)