Responding to the sentencing of founder and chair of Viasna human rights centre and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, who received a sentence of ten years in prison, his colleague Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chair of Viasna and vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights, who was sentenced to nine years, and Viasna’s lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, who was given seven years in prison, Marie Struthers, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said:
“This sham trial on politically motivated charges is a blatant retaliation for Viasna’s human rights work. Their sentencing represents a further blow to the already severely repressed civil society and the concerning state of human rights in Belarus. It’s a vindictive act of injustice that requires the immediate attention of the international community.
“These brave human rights defenders were never given the chance of a fair trial. They were handcuffed when escorted in and held inside a cage throughout the trial. The judge conducted proceedings in Russian instead of Belarusian and they were given no time to familiarize themselves with the case materials, to say nothing of them being tried on fabricated charges. We cannot let them suffer under the reprehensible political agenda of the Belarusian authorities. We demand their immediate and unconditional release.”
Bialiatski Stefanovich and Labkovich, have been falsely charged with “smuggling large sums of money and financing group activities that grossly violated public order”. They have all been held in custody since July 2021, while exiled co-defendant Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to eight years in absentia.
The prosecution claims that they smuggled at least 201,000 Euros and 54,000 US Dollars across the border and used these funds to finance “unlawful” protest activities.
During and after mass and overwhelmingly peaceful protests against widely alleged electoral fraud in 2020, Viasna was instrumental in documenting and reporting widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment and unfair trials.