Ales Bialiatski, Right Livelihood laureate 2020. Foto: Stina Stjernkvist

Belarus: trial against Viasna leadership starts tomorrow in Minsk

Right Livelihood is deeply concerned about the upcoming trial against Ales Bialiatski, Vialiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich, members of 2020 Right Livelihood Laureate Human Rights Center “Viasna”, which is set to begin tomorrow, January 5, in Minsk. The three defenders have been arbitrarily detained since July 14, 2021, on politically motivated charges and proceedings against them have been marred by numerous human rights violations. We reiterate our call for their immediate and unconditional release.

Ales Bialiatski, Vialiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich have been playing a leading role in advocating for democracy and the rule of law in Belarus for the past 25 years, through their work at Human Rights Center “Viasna.” From documenting human rights abuses to monitoring elections, Viasna’s work is fundamental in ensuring future accountability in the country. Initially detained on the charge of tax evasion, which was later dropped, they are now undergoing trial under two separate articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code for “financing of group actions grossly violating public order” (Art.342.2) as well as “smuggling; illegal movement of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union on a large scale by an organized group” (Art. 228.4). They face up to 12 years in prison.

Tomorrow’s trial comes after 17 months of unlawful detention. The length of their pre-trial custody exceeds any legal limit established by international standards and their conditions of detention are torturous and inhumane. Communications with detainees have been restricted on numerous occasions and undergo a harsh censure process. Family visits have systematically been denied.

The criminal proceedings against them are part of a broader crackdown on civil society against anyone standing up for democracy in the country, which has been undergoing since 2020. All legally operating human rights NGOs in the country have been liquidated and working for an unregistered organisation is now a criminal liability. Three other members of Viasna are currently behind bars after being unfairly sentenced in close doors trials: Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, and Leanid Sudalenka. They’re some of the 1446 political prisoners currently detained in Belarus.

We reiterate our full support to Viasna and all its members, and we call on the international community to act promptly on the systematic human rights violations occurring in the country. The Belarusian authorities must fully abide by their international human rights obligations, starting by immediately and unconditionally releasing Ales Bialiatski, Vialiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, and Leanid Sudalenka as well as all other political prisoners currently behind bars, and drop all charges against them.