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Belarus sentences Nobel Peace laureate Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in jail


A Belarusian court on Friday sentenced one of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, the human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, to 10 years in prison — continuing a brutal crackdown on dissent that began in response to pro-democracy protests in 2020.

Bialiatski, 60, a veteran human rights defender, founded the Viasna Human Rights Center in 1996. He shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize with Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, which is working to document alleged war crimes by Russia, and the Russian human rights group Memorial, in a pointed rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.

In bestowing the award in October, the Nobel Committee specifically called on Belarus to free Bialiatski, who had been arrested on charges of financial crimes widely viewed as politically motivated. His decade-long sentence marked the latest display of contempt for the West by the government of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, which Bialiatski had long criticized.

Bialiatski and at least two other Viasna activists were convicted and sentenced Friday on charges of smuggling cash into the country to finance opposition activities. Valiantsin Stefanovich, vice president of Viasna, was sentenced to nine years in jail, and Uladzimir Labkovich, the group’s lawyer, received a seven-year sentence.

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The case was widely viewed as political retribution for years of opposition to Lukashenko, who has repeatedly accused his opponents and nongovernmental organizations of accepting financial backing from the West. All three of the human rights campaigners had pleaded not guilty on Friday.

Bialiatski was jailed following mass street protests in 2020, which erupted after Lukashenko claimed victory in a presidential election in August 2020 with 80 percent of the vote, an outcome that was widely derided as fraudulent.

Since then, Lukashenko, who has presided over the former Soviet state with an iron fist for nearly three decades, has unleashed a shocking wave of repression against the protesters. More than 35,000 were arrested, while thousands were beaten by police. Rights groups also documented cases of torture. Many opposition figures were jailed or forced to flee and live in exile.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the country’s opposition leader in exile who had claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election, called the sentencing of Bialiatski and his colleagues “appalling.”

“Ales has dedicated his life to fighting against tyranny. He is a true hero of Belarus and will be honored long after the dictator is forgotten,” Tikhanovskaya tweeted.

In announcing the Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee wrote: “Ales Bialiatski was one of the initiators of the democracy movement that emerged in Belarus in the mid-1980s. He has devoted his life to promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country.”

The committee noted that Bialiatski had been arrested and detained from 2011 to 2014 and that, at the time of the prize announcement, was imprisoned. “He is still detained without trial,” the committee wrote. “Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr. Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.”

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In his acceptance speech, delivered by his wife, Natallia Pinchuk, Bialiatski said: “Thousands of people are currently behind bars in Belarus for political reasons, and they are all my brothers and sisters. Nothing can stop people’s thirst for freedom. In my homeland, the entirety of Belarus is in a prison. Journalists, political scientists, trade union leaders are in jail; there are many of my acquaintances and friends among them.”

He added, “The courts work like a conveyor belt: Convicts are transported to penal colonies, and new waves of political prisoners take their place. This award belongs to all my human rights defender friends, all civic activists, tens of thousands of Belarusians who have gone through beatings, torture, arrests, prison. This award belongs to millions of Belarusian citizens who stood up and took action in the streets and online to defend their civil rights. It highlights the dramatic situation and struggle for human rights in the country.”

In his final address to the court, Bialiatski accused investigators of following orders and trying to shut down Viasna’s work. He urged the authorities to “stop the civil war in Belarus.”

According to Viasna, there are 1,458 political prisoners in Belarus. Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, is under sanctions internationally for political repressions in Belarus, as well as his role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in which Belarus served as a launchpad for Russian troops.

One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.

Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.