“The prison sentences delivered today in Belarus against four human rights defenders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, are deeply troubling and indicative of the ongoing repression in the country,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights office, OHCHR.
UN human rights chief Volker Türk has called for an end to the persecution of human rights defenders and of people expressing dissenting views, and for an end to arbitrary detention once and for all, she said.
Authorities announced today that Mr. Bialiatski, chair of the Viasna Human Rights Center, received a 10-year prison sentence related to smuggling and extremism-related charges.
Three other Viasna members – Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, and Dzmitry Salauyou – were given sentences of nine, seven, and eight years respectively. Mr. Salauyou was tried in absentia.
“We remain deeply concerned that, as of today, some 1,458 people are reported to be in detention in Belarus on politically motivated charges,” she said.
“The lack of independence of the judiciary and other violations of fair trial guarantees have resulted in human rights defenders in Belarus being criminally prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced for their legitimate human rights work,” she said.
This includes recent prison sentences meted out related to charges of extremism and high treason, she added.
On 17 February, 10 members of the workers movement Rabochy Rukh, were sentenced to between 12 and 15 years, and on 8 February, journalist Andrzej Poczobut, was sentenced to eight years in prison.