TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A court docket on Friday sentenced Belarus’ prime human rights advocate and one of many winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, to 10 years in jail.
The tough punishment of Ales Bialiatski and three of his colleagues got here in response to huge protests over a 2020 election that gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a brand new time period in workplace.
Lukashenko, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who backed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, has dominated the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist since 1994. Greater than 35,000 folks have been arrested, and 1000’s have been crushed by police, in a brutal crackdown he unleashed on the protesters, the biggest in the nation’s historical past.
Belarus stands as an outlier in its help of the year-old Russian invasion, with different international locations in the area not backing Moscow publicly.
Bialiatski and his cohorts on the Viasna human rights heart he based have been convicted of financing actions violating public order and smuggling, Viasna reported Friday.
Valiantsin Stefanovich was given a nine-year sentence; Uladzimir Labkovicz seven years; and Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to eight years in jail in absentia.
Through the trial, which passed off behind closed doorways, the 60-year-old Bialiatski and his colleagues have been held in a caged enclosure in the courtroom. They’ve spent 21 months behind bars for the reason that arrest.
Within the photographs from the courtroom launched Friday by Belarus’ state information company Belta, Bialiatksi, clad in black garments, seemed wan, however calm.
Viasna stated after the decision that each one 4 activists have maintained their innocence.
In his closing tackle to the court docket, he urged the authorities to “cease the civil battle in Belarus.” Bialiatski stated it grew to become apparent to him from the case recordsdata that “the investigators have been fulfilling the duty they got: to deprive Viasna human rights advocates of freedom at any price, destroy Viasna and cease our work.”
Exiled Belarusian opposition chief Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya denounced the court docket verdict on Friday as “appalling.” “We should do the whole lot to battle towards this shameful injustice (and) free them,” Tsikhaouskaya wrote in a tweet.
The sentence handed to Bialiatski and his colleagues elicited outrage in the West.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a nongovernmental group working to be sure that human rights are revered in observe, stated that it was “shocked by the cynicism behind the sentences that have been simply issued to our Belarusian associates in Minsk.”
”The trial exhibits how Lukashenka’s regime punishes our colleagues, human rights defenders, for standing up towards the oppression and injustice,” Secretary Normal Berit Lindeman stated in an announcement.
German Overseas Minister Annalena Baerbock stated in a tweet that the proceedings towards the activists “have been a farce.”
“The Minsk regime is combating civil society with drive and jail,” she added. “That is simply as a lot a each day shame as Lukashenko’s help for Putin’s battle. We name for the tip of political persecution and freedom for the greater than 1,400 political prisoners.”
Bialiatski is the fourth particular person in the 121-year historical past of the Nobel Prizes to obtain the award whereas in jail or detention.
Related Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.