A Belarusian court has sentenced Ales Bialiatski, Belarus’s top human rights advocate and one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, to 10 years in prison.
Bialiatski and three other top figures of the Viasna Human Rights Centre he founded were charged with financing protests and smuggling money on Friday.
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Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Bialiatski and other activists sentenced in the same trial had been unfairly convicted, calling the verdict “appalling”.
“We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice & free them,” she said on Twitter.
Prosecutors had asked the Minsk court to give Bialiatski, who denied the charges, a 12-year sentence.
Belarusian state news agency Belta confirmed the sentences.
Poland’s prime minister denounced the sentencing.
“Today’s verdict is yet another outrageous decision of a Belarusian court recently,” Mateusz Morawiecki said in a Facebook post.
“The (Belarusian) authorities have repeatedly tried to silence him, but Ales Bialiatski never conceded in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.”
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly also joined the outcry, writing on Twitter that Bialiatski’s sentencing is an example of the “brutal repression of human rights” under Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“Ales Bialiatski and his colleagues must be released,” Joly wrote. “Canada stands with the people of Belarus.”
Berit Reiss-Andersen, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told Reuters: “The case, the verdict against him, is a tragedy for him personally.”
Franak Viacorka, senior adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, told Al Jazeera the sentence is “draconian and absolutely inhuman”.
“It’s a personal revenge of Lukashenko to Ales because Ales was very actively supporting Belarusian victims of repression, victims of Russian war against Ukraine, and also it’s revenge on Bialiatski for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize,” Viacorka said.
“Before, Lukashenko was the monopolist on Belarus issues in the world, and now it’s not only about… Lukashenko, it’s also about Ales Bialiatski, [investigative journalist] Svetlana Alexievich, Belarusian heroes who are fighting for freedom and Lukashenko is very jealous about it.”
Aged 60, Bialiatski is one of the most prominent of hundreds of Belarusians who were jailed during a crackdown on anti-government protests that erupted after longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election and continued into 2021.
The charges against Bialiatski and his colleagues, who were arrested in 2021, were also connected to Viasna’s provision of money to political prisoners and help towards their legal fees.
“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,” Viasna has said of the case.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock slammed the charges and proceedings against Bialiatski, and co-defendants Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich, as a “farce”, saying they were being judged “simply for their years-long fight for the rights, dignity and freedom of the people of Belarus”.
Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October for his work on human rights and democracy, sharing it with the Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in December, Bialiatski’s wife Natalia Pinchuk said: “We all realise how important and risky the mission of civil rights defenders is, especially in the tragic time of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
“Ales is not the only one to be in jail; thousands of Belarusians, tens of thousands of those who are repressed, unjustly imprisoned for their civic actions and beliefs, are in prison, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee the country for the mere reason that they wanted to live in a democratic state.”