November 24, 2011 – Ales Bialiatski, the head of the well-known human rights organization Viasna in Belarus this morning sentenced to four and a half years in prison and confiscation of property for tax evasion.
This verdict is a shame for Europe, and we must all stand together in our condemnation of the regime in Belarus, said NHC Secretary General Bjørn Engesland. – European leaders, including the Norwegian government, must demand the immediate release of Bialiatski.
Viasna is Belarus’ main human rights organization, and is known to have provided legal and material assistance to the victims of the regime’s abuses. The organization has been the main source of information about the human rights violations that for years have intensified in what is called ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’. As a reprisal for their work, Viasna has for years been denied registration and their activities have been forced underground.
Bialiatski, head of Viasna, was forced to open accounts abroad. This was the only way the work could be continued, with financial support from among others the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Belarusian authorities got access to information about Bialiatskis bank account in the bank DnB NORD in Vilnius with the assistance of Lithuanian authorities, which Lithuania now has apologized strongly.
Ales is the jewel in the Belarusian human rights work, and no one can quite fill his role, says head of information Berit Lindeman. -We know that Viasna’s employees will continue the work, and we stand together with them in demanding the release of Ales and other political prisoners in Belarus. Among them, we find another of our partners and friends, former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, who has been imprisoned nearly a year under torture-like conditions.
Ales Bialiatski received the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s award Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award in 2006 and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s employees were denied entry to Belarus to monitor the trial.