A few Belarusian local newspapers published simultaneously articles with identical content slandering Ales Bialiatski, a human rights defender tried for alleged large-scale tax evasion.
The article appeared in local Vitebsk newspaper, Narodnoye Slovo and Pridnieprovska Niva. It accused Bialiatski of “embezzling money and cheating western tax payers”. The author, Dzianis Palyavanaw, called Bialiatski “double-faced” and claimed he used the stolen money to improve his living standard.
Human rights defenders from Viasna center stated that the article slanders the defendant by calling him guilty of the crime before the judgement was made. As the article appeared at the same time in different media, including state news agency Bielta, the activists suggested smear campaign against Bialiatski was ordered by the authorities.
Bialiatski was arrested in Minsk on August 4th and has been in held in detention since. He is accused of concealing income and tax evasion based on an article 243 point 2 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. The highest punishment is seven years of imprisonment, and can also be severed by property loss.
The basis of the evidence against Bialiatski were informations obtained from Lithuanian Ministry of Justice and Polish Prosecutor’s Office. Handing over such sensitive data to this undemocratic country stirred controversy among public opinion and Belarusian dissidents.
The European Parliament and various international human rights organizations demanded Bialiatski’s release. The EU just recently expanded its blacklist of Belarusian officials with entry ban to include the people who are tied to Bialiatski’s trial.