Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski went on trial on Thursday in a case his allies have dismissed as politicised.
The 60-year-old, who co-founded the Viasna human rights group, faces upwards of 12 years in prison and is among hundreds of Belarusians who were jailed during a crackdown on anti-government protests in the summer of 2020.
In October, Bialiatski shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties for the protection of the fundamental rights of humans and the right to criticise power.
He was arrested in 2021, along with three members of the Viasna group, on charges of financing protests and smuggling money.
Zmitser Salauyou, a fourth rights defender who fled Belarus, is being prosecuted in absentia in the same case.
On Twitter, Viasna said the judge had refused to conduct the trial in Belarusian instead of Russian and rejected Bialiatski’s request for a translator.
“The allegations against our colleagues are linked to their human rights activity, the Viasna human rights centre’s provision of help to the victims of politically motivated persecution,” the group said of the case.
Viasna took a leading role in providing legal and financial assistance to hundreds of Belarusians who were jailed during mass protests when President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, claimed a landslide election victory in 2020.
Bialiatski and his colleagues have been labelled “political prisoners” by rights defenders.
Activists estimate there are about 1,500 prisoners unjustly jailed in Belarusian prisons.
About 50,000 people were detained for protesting or criticising the authorities since 2020, they say.
Bialiatski has not commented on the allegations publicly.