“I have a feeling that this trial was necessary in order to check whether we have been doing the right thing during all these 15 years”, said Ales Bialiatski in a letter sent to his colleagues in the human rights organisation Viasna.
The day before, on November 24 2011, Ales Bialiaski had been sentenced to four and a half years in prison. This is not the first time Ales has been put to trial. Since he took part in the forming of Viasna in 1996, he has been arrested more than 20 times. In one of these occasions, on the International Human Rights Day December 10 2008, he was was subject to physical violence and detained beacuse he handed out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Nezalezhnasts Avenue.
Each year Viasna helps thousands of people, above all with legal aid. In 2003 the organisation was deprived of its registration – a violation of the right to freedom of association, according to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2007. After several unsuccesful attempts to reregister Viasna the activists were fed up and publicly announced their activities in 2009. They are constantly being monitored and put under surveillance by the Belarusian security services, KGB. None the less, together with his colleagues, Ales has continued working. In 2006 his fight was noticed by the Swedish Government when they awarded him the Per Anger-prize for his “fearless struggle” and “humanitarian efforts”, after a nomination by Civil Rights Defenders.
During a seminar that Civil Rights Defenders hosted in February 2010, Ales expressed optimism for the future, even though the overall human rights situation has deteriorated over the past decade. While acknowledging that Belarusian human rights defenders no longer expect changes to happen within the near future, Ales stressed that the positive development of the civil society gives reason to be optimistic.
Since the Presidential election in December 2010, the Belarusian regime has increasingly put pressure on civil society trying to silence critical voices. The harassment of human rights organisations and activists has continued without interruption since the election.
The trial against Ales Bialiatski is just one example of how human rights defenders are being persecuted in Belarus. After the Arabic Spring/ Arabic Awakening regimes all over the world, in fear of similiar protests and demonstrations, have been very inventive in coming up with new ways to silence critics.
Bio: Ales (Aliaksandr) Viktaravich Bialiatski
Born on 25 September 1962 in Värtsilä in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, to Belarusian parents. Ales has a degree in philology and was the author of a book of essays “Jogging along Lake Geneva Shore” published in 2006.
In 2000-2004, he was head of the Working Group of the Assembly of Belarusian Pro-Democratic NGOs. He has been chair of the Human Rights Center Viasna since 1996. Ales Bialiatski is also Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
Ales Bialiatski has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, in 2006 and 2007. His courageous and persistent activities for human rights in Belarus and worldwide have been recognized by numerous international awards, among them the Swedish Per Anger Prize, the Andrey Sakharov Freedom Award and the Homo Homini Prize (“People in Need”).
Ales Bialiatski is married and has a son.
Human rights at risk in Belarus
The situation for human rights defenders in Belarus has hit an all time low since the presidential elections in December 2010, when the regime started a massive, and still on-going, campaign against civil society.
Freedom of Assembly is constantly violated. Manifestations and other gatherings require permission from authorities and when spontaneous meetings occur these are often quickly disbanded by police. Over 700 persons were detained by security forces in the wake of the 2010 elections.
Freedom of Association is also heavily restricted, and the practice of denying registration of public associations and political parties is still prevailing in Belarus. Organisations without registration are banned and activities in an unregistered organisation are criminal according to Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code. Violations can give up to two years imprisonment.
The persecution of human rights defenders continues. Viasna’s Vice President, Valiantsin Stefanovich (picture) has been charged in two different cases, both connected to his human rights work.
Population: 9.6 million (UN, 2010)
Life expectancy: 65 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN, 2010)
Major language: Russian, Belarussian (both official)
President: Alexander Lukashenko (since 1994)
Other: Only country in Europe still practicing the death penalty, Belarus became independent in 1991 in connection with fall of the Soviet union.
Tags: Ales Bialiatski and Human Rights Defenders.
Campaigns: Human rights defenders in focus.