Belarus Puts Jailed Nobel Prize Winner on Trial

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Belarus on Friday to immediately release human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize 2022 winner Ales Bialiatski from prison and drop all the charges against him.

Ales Bialiaski PrisonThe Belarus regime tries to silence human rights activist and the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski. (Photo: Вясна Праваабарончы цэнтр, Flickr, License)The trial of a group of human rights campaigners, including Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna (Spring), his deputy Valentin Stefanovich and the coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Uladzimir Labkovich, began in Minsk on Thursday.

Bialiatski, Stefanovich and Labkovich were arrested in July 2021 during searches of offices and homes of Viasna’s activists.

They were charged with financial embezzlement and violation of public order for which they could end up in prison for seven to 12 years, according to Viasna. The NGO claims that the trial is an attempt of the regime of the President Alexander Lukashenko to silence them.

The Belarus regime accused the human rights campaigners of “acting from April 4, 2016 to July 14, 2021, as part of an organized crime group…” which took money from various structures and funds intended for human rights organizations, and deposited it to bank accounts of “foreign organizations under their control.”

Bialiatski’s trail started less than three months after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 for devoting his life to “promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country,” as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced in October 2022.

The Committee recalled that Bialiatski founded Viasna in 1996 in reaction to contentious constitutional reforms that granted the president dictatorial powers and sparked widespread protests in Belarus.

While Viasna was offering support to the imprisoned protestors and their families while also recording and opposing the authorities’ use of torture against political prisoners, the Belarus government continually attempted to suppress Ales Bialiatski, according to the Nobel Prize Committee.

According to the UN OHCHR, the three Viasna activists are among hundreds jailed in Belarus following a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2020.

“As we mark the 75th anniversary this year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the High Commissioner has called for an end to arbitrary detention once and for all,” read the OHCHR statement.

The German government also strongly condemned the legal procedure against the trio, describing it as a “politically motivated trial.”

“They have been tried only for standing up for human and civil rights,” the German Foreign Ministry tweeted.

The government also called on the Belarus regime to immediately release more than 1,400 political prisoners.

“Violence and repression against civil society in Belarus must stop,” Berlin concluded.