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Belarus jails Nobel winner Bialiatski for 10 years

#Belarus #jails #Nobel #winner #Bialiatski #years

Belarus on Friday handed a 10-year jail term to veteran activist Ales Bialiatski, a Nobel Prize winner and founder of the ex-Soviet authoritarian country’s most prominent rights group.

Bialiatski was in the dock with two allies after they were jailed in the aftermath of historic demonstrations against the disputed 2020 re-election of Belarus’s strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.

They were accused of smuggling cash into Belarus to allegedly fund opposition activities, according to rights group Viasna, meaning Spring in Belarusian, which Bialiatski founded in 1996. 

Viasna said he had been handed a 10-year sentence, while co-defendants Valentin Stefanovich was given nine years in prison and Vladimir Labkovich was jailed for seven.

During a hearing in January last year, all three pleaded not guilty.

Amnesty International has called the trial a “blatant act of injustice” and “revenge for their activism”.

Bialiatski was among the three co-recipients of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, alongside a Russian and Ukrainian human rights group. 

Bialiatski, 60, founded Viasna shortly after Lukashenko became the first president of independent Belarus in 1994. 

In 2011, Bialiatski was jailed for three years for tax evasion, in a move widely seen as politically-motivated in the wake of an earlier presidential election claimed by Lukashenko.

– ‘Brave’ rights defenders –

Lukashenko, dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, has ruled the country with an iron first for nearly three decades.

He is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and allowed Moscow to deploy troops to Ukraine from Belarus last February. 

Lukashenko has cracked down on the opposition movement, jailing his critics or pushing them into exile.

Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Friday criticised the court’s decision in what she called a “fake trial”.

“We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice and free them,” she said on social media.

Prosecutors in Belarus are seeking a 19-year jail term for Tikhanovskaya, who now lives in EU member Lithuania.

Tikhanovskaya — who claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election — faces a litany of charges including high treason, “conspiracy to seize power” and creating and leading an extremist organisation.

Tikhanovskaya and her allies spearheaded rallies against Lukashenko’s claim to a sixth term in power in elections denounced as fraudulent by the international community.

She ran for the presidency in place of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a charismatic YouTube blogger who galvanised the opposition and coined a new insult for Lukashenko when he called him a “cockroach”.

Authorities cut his campaign short by arresting him on charges of violating public order. 

In 2021, he was found guilty of organising riots, inciting social hatred and other charges and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

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