TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarusian authorities on Thursday requested a lengthy prison sentence for jailed human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
The prosecutor has asked a court in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to hand Bialiatski a 12-year prison sentence for financing anti-government protests. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate stood trial along with three of his colleagues from the Viasna human rights center that he had founded.
The charges in the trial, which is taking place behind closed doors in the Leninsky court in Minsk, are connected to Viasna’s provision of money to political prisoners and helping pay their legal fees. The four human rights advocates have been accused of tax evasion, financing actions violating public order and smuggling.
The prosecutor requested lengthy prison terms for Bialiatski’s colleagues, as well: 11 years for Valiantsin Stefanovich, 10 years for Dzmitry Salauyou, and nine years for Uladzimir Labkovicz. Salauyou is being tried in absentia, because he has managed to leave Belarus. All four should serve their time in an enhanced security prison — conditions in those are notoriously harsh.
Each of the four is also facing a fine of 185,000 Belarusian rubles (about $73,200).
The rights advocates have already spent 20 months behind bars. They were arrested after the months-long mass protests in Belarus that followed the 2020 presidential election, which handed authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term in office and was denounced by the opposition and the West as rigged.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country with an iron fist since 1994, unleashed a brutal crackdown on the protesters, the largest in the country’s history. More than 35,000 people have been arrested, and thousands have been beaten by police.
During the trial, the 60-year-old Bialiatski and his colleagues were held in a caged enclosure in the courtroom. Photos of the Bialiatski released by Belarus’ state news agency, Belta, showed him wearing black clothes and looking wan.
“Criminalizing help to the victims of political repressions, which is taking place after 2020, is immoral and inhumane,” Bialiatski said in court.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was forced to flee Belarus in 2020, urged to free the human rights advocates immediately.
“I am appalled by the injustice in the fake trial against Viasna human rights defenders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski” she said. “They must be freed!”
Bialiatski is the fourth person in the 121-year history of the Nobel Prizes to receive the award while in prison or detention.