Ales Bialiatski started his closing statement by emphasizing the political nature of his case: “I find myself in a difficult position because I understand very well that this case has carried a political subtext from start to finish. My lawyer’s speech and these final words of mine remind me of a voice screaming to be heard in a wasteland. I feel like I am screaming in a wasteland and trying to get my voice to reach the sun. But nevertheless I do have something to say. And I will start by saying that my friend gave me an old Soviet book to read about countermeasures the KGB took against human rights defenders in the USSR. Forty years have passed, but in these three months I have felt like I have returned to the USSR, only this reincarnation has taken place at some different level. When KGB officers were taking me to Rakov to conduct a search, I tried to get them to talk about why they were using old methods. I do not believe that the KGB and other state security services have no idea what Viasna does. If they see us as a source of funds for the opposition, then this is a mistake on their part and a sign of their unprofessionalism. I do not believe this. The KGB knows very well what we are working on in Belarus and it works against human rights defenders with deliberation and purpose, making use of any methods available to it.”
In his speech, Ales Bialiatski also gave a general picture of the human rights situation in Belarus, drawing parallels with the situations of human rights defenders in the former Soviet Union. He made specific mention of Uzbekistan, where dozens of human rights defenders are in prison, and of the murders of human rights defenders in Russia and the North Caucasus.
Ales Bialiatski spoke in detail about the goals of the Human Rights Center Viasna and its main areas of work, as well as about all the pressure and persecution that the Center has been subjected to in recent years. He also stressed that neither he nor Viasna have ever tried to hide their activities and have always worked in the open, despite such difficult work conditions. In its 15 years of existence, Viasna has been able to help thousands of people suffering political persecution.
In drawing parallels with the Soviet Union, Bialiatski also drew attention to the campaign of libel and slander that has been launched against him by the Belarusian mass media, as well as the campaign to discredit Viasna and all NGOs in general. According to him, the materials appearing on national television and in the regional press amount to nothing less than direct pressure on the court and the progress of the entire trial.
In his speech Ales Bialiatski also noted that the documents being used to make the case against him are themselves evidence of the political and tailor-made nature of his case. He specifically referred to the anonymous letters handed over to the KGB which served as the basis for the initiation of the criminal case against him. Meetings between the KGB and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which included discussions of articles under which charges could be presented, also figured in the case. Part 2, Article 243 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, which covers evasion of taxes in especially large amounts, was selected because it was impossible to prosecute him for other reasons. All these examples amount to clear evidence that the criminal case against Bialiatski was initiated and overseen by the Belarusian KGB and they represent nothing other than the prosecution and punishment of Bialiatski for his human rights activities.
According to representatives of an FIDH observation mission in attendance at the trial, Bialiatski’s statement was met with prolonged applause from those present in the courtroom.
The judge called a recess after Bialiatski’s final words. The verdict will be issued tomorrow, November 24, at 11:00 am Minsk time.