Belarusian dissident Ales Byaljacki in court in Minsk, January 5, 2023.
Minsk – A court in Minsk has sentenced a Belarusian dissident, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and human rights defender the rights of Ales Bjaljacký to ten years in prison. Three other co-defendants, one of whom fled abroad and was tried in absentia, were sentenced to seven, eight and nine years in prison, Russian and Belarusian media reporters reported from the courtroom.
The non-governmental organization Vyasna, which the 60-year-old Bjaljacki leads, also reported on the verdicts. Belarusian authorities have banned Vyasna, which reports on human rights violations in the country, as an extremist organization.
In addition to Bjaljacki, Judge Maryna Zapasnikova also convicted his deputy Valjancin Stefanovič, the coordinator of the campaign for free elections, lawyer Uladzimir Labkovič and, in his absence, human rights defender Dzmitryj Salaujov for “cash smuggling by an organized group” and financing the protests that broke out against the authoritarian regime in the summer of 2020 after, that the authorities once again declared Alexander Lukashenko the winner of the presidential election. According to the opposition, the elections were falsified, the West refused to recognize Lukashenka's legitimacy.
The defendants denied guilt and called the trial politically motivated.
Vyasna stated on its website that during the delivery of the verdict, the defendants were handcuffed by hand. She also recalled that on the eve of the verdict, 21 international human rights organizations issued a statement demanding the release of human rights defenders and the withdrawal of all charges against them.
Bjaljacki won the Nobel Peace Prize last year together with the Russian Memorial organization, famous for exposing the crimes of communism and protecting human rights, and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, which, among other things, is dedicated to investigating potential Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Under Bialyakky, his wife had to accept the award, because the Belarusian dissident was already in prison. Bialacki's friends see the trial as revenge against Lukashenko's regime.
The trial began in January, and prosecutors announced last week that they were seeking 12 years in prison for Bialacki, while the other co-accused were seeking 11, 10 and nine years in prison.
“The criminal proceedings against us, human rights defenders from Vyasna, are politically motivated,” Bjaljacki said earlier. “The overall situation in the country, where there are repressions and human rights violations, indicates the political background of this case,” he added.
According to human rights defenders, there are now about 1,500 political prisoners in Belarusian prisons. Since the summer of 2020, police and the Secret Service have detained an estimated 50,000 people for participating in protests or criticizing the authorities.