Ales Bialiatski, a well-know Belarusian human rights defender was sentenced today to four-and-a-half year in a high-security prison camp and a property loss by a court in Minsk.
The head of Viasna human rights center was charged with hiding significant amount of income, based on article 243 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. Prosecution demanded for Bialiatski 5 years in prison and a property loss. The indictment was based on documents handed over to the Belarusian authorities by Lithuanian Ministry of Justice and Polish Prosecutor General office in a procedure of bilateral legal support. Disclosure of the cooperation with Belarusian regime turned into a scandal in both countries.
Representatives of Polish, Lithuanian, American, French and German diplomatic services together with many journalists were present during the sentence pronouncement in court. According to Bielapan news agency, Tatsiana Ravyaka, a human rights activist, held up a banner saying “Freedom for Bialiatski” while his sentence was read by the judge.
Bialiatski’s lawyer announced they will appeal the sentence. Yesterday, the head of the EU diplomacy Catherine Ashton and the EU Commissioner Stefan Fuele, expressed their deep concern with the political character of the trial.
Ales Bialiatski is a head of Viasna Human Rights Center, an organization that provides legal and financial support to people persecuted by the Belarusian regime. Viasna was shut down by the regime in 2004, which meant they lost legal ground to receive foreign grants. Ever since, foreign donors have deposited money to support operations of the NGO on private foreign accounts of Viasna activists. Also recently, tax office has been screening income of Bialiatski’s close coworker, Valentsin Stefanovich, who is also suspected of hiding his income, but since the amount of money is significantly smaller, no criminal investigation has been launched.