Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Berlatsky was found guilty of financing protests on Friday and sentenced to 10 years in prison. This decision was condemned by Germany as a “farce.”
In October, Bialiatski, 60, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Belarus, a country ruled with an iron fist for nearly 30 years by ex-Soviet farm boss Alexander Lukashenko, a staunch ally of Russia.
Viasna (Spring) human rights group co-founder and other defendants, including Bialiatski, were confined to a cage in the Minsk courtroom, where they watched the proceedings in gloom.
After his arrest in 2021, Bialiatski and three others were charged with protest funding and currency smuggling. The court imposed lengthy prison terms on all the men, including ten years for Bialiatski, according to the Belarusian state news agency Belta. He claimed the accusations were made for political reasons and he was innocent.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a leader of the exiled Belarusian opposition, called the verdict against Bialiatski and three other activists in the same trial “appalling” and said they had been unfairly convicted.
“We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice & free them,” she said on Twitter.
Three other men were found guilty and sentenced to prison time as well; Valentin Stefanovich received nine years, Vladimir Labkovich received seven, and Dmitry Solovyov received eight but was absent from court.
Annalena Baerbock, the German minister for foreign affairs, has described the trial as “a farce.”
The regime in Minsk is using violence and incarceration to suppress civil society. She tweeted that this was just as shameful as Lukashenko’s continued backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
In a briefing in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern over “the lack of fair trial proceedings and access to an independent judiciary in Belarus.”
According to her, that meant that people who advocated for human rights were putting themselves at legal risk by doing so.
Without providing specifics, Shamdasani stated that there were at least 1,446 people, including 10 children, in custody at the end of 2022 who had faced or were still facing criminal proceedings.
Hundreds of Belarusians, including Bialiatski, a dissident during the Soviet era, were imprisoned after the government violently suppressed months of anti-government demonstrations that began in the summer of 2020 and continued into 2021.
As a co-founder of Viasna, an organization that helps inmates with both legal and financial matters, he saw it as his duty to help those who were incarcerated.
After Lukashenko was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, the opposition and Western countries claimed the results were fraudulent, sparking widespread protests.