Ales Bialiatski sentenced to 4.5 years
A court in Minsk on Thursday, 24 November sentenced Ales Bialiatski, Head of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and Vice-Director of the International Federation for Human Rights to four and a half years imprisonment for supposed tax evasion. The case has been widely condemned as an attempt to crush a prominent human rights defender and all those who stand up for democracy, rights and the rule of law in Belarus.
49-year-old Ales Bialiatski has been convicted over “tax evasion” in connection with accountsi opened and used to transfer money from abroad to Belarus to help victims of political repression, since Viasna was officially dissolved by the Belarusian regime in 2003.
There was outrage and consternation when it was discovered that both the Lithuanian Justice Ministry and the Polish Prosecutor General’s Office gave information about accounts to the Belarusian authorities
Andrzej Poczobut reports that on Wednesday in his final speech Bialiatski’s lawyer, Dmitry Layevsky argued that the prosecution had not provided proof that Ales Bialiatski had committed any crime. Even in the documents presented it was written that the recipient of the money was the Viasna Human Riaghts Centre. That meant, he stressed, that this was not Bialiatski’s money and he had not been obliged to pay tax on it.
He pointed out that some of the documents, including information about the bank accounts and transfers had not even been translated. The requests for legal assistance had been sent to Poland and Lithuania before criminal proceedings were initiated, which meant that in accordance with the agreement on legal assistance there had been no grounds for handing over the documents.
Ales Bialiatski in his final words said that the regime did not tolerate criticism and was therefore persecuting journalists and human rights defenders. He rejects any wrongdoing.
New information from a report in Gazeta Wyborcza
On Wednesday a Joint Statement was issued by Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, and Stefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, made today the following statement:
“We are seriously concerned about the detention and prosecution of internationally renowned
Belarusian human rights defender Ales Byalyatski for alleged tax evasion.
We consider the charges against Ales Byalyatski in the ongoing trial as a politically motivated pretext to target his important work to the benefit of victims of repression. As such, the ongoing trial is a highly visible and symbolic manifestation of the crackdown on civil society in Belarus since the 19 December 2010 Presidential elections.
We call on Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release Ales Byalyatski and to drop the charges against him and against his deputy Valyantsin Stefanovich.”