Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award goes to Belarusian prisoner of conscience

Ales Bialiatski, a Belarusian human rights activist and a prisoner of conscience, was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in recognition for his work to improve the human rights situation in his country and for the great personal risk he took in the process, Amnesty International said today.

“The prize that Ales Bialiatski received today recognises his courageous human rights work in the face of adversity and for the great personal sacrifices he has made. It is also an indictment against the Belarusian authorities for their persecution of human rights activists and their attacks on freedom of association, assembly and expression,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s researcher on Belarus.

Ales Bialiatski is currently serving a four and a half year sentence for his human rights activities as Head of the Human Rights Centre Viasna in Belarus. The organization campaigns against the death penalty, torture and other ill-treatment, and on behalf of political prisoners.

It was liquidated in 2003 – leaving its members open to possible prosecution for carrying on activities in the name of an unregistered organization – and barred from holding a bank account in its name in Belarus.

Ales Bialiatski was arrested over the use of his personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to support his organization’s human rights work in Belarus. On 24 November 2011 he was sentenced to imprisonment for “concealment of income on a large scale”.

The trial violated international fair trial standards in several respects, and Amnesty International believes the charges and his conviction are politically motivated and intended to obstruct his legitimate work as a human rights defender. Amnesty International considers Ales Bialiatski to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely because of his human rights work. It continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Last month his wife, Natallia Pinchuk, told Amnesty International: “My biggest worry is how he is surviving in Bobruisk colony. He lives in difficult and strict conditions. He is not only imprisoned but the administration has forbidden contact with other prisoners. The prisoners who have any contact with Ales are told that they can lose priviledges, or their right to parole or may be disciplined. The lengthy imprisonment also threatens his health.”

The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation to reward outstanding civil society work in the defence of human rights in Europe and beyond.