PRESS RELEASE – THE OBSERVATORY
Paris-Geneva, January 24, 2012. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), strongly condemns the confirmation of the sentencing to prison of Mr. Ales Bialiatski, President of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna” and FIDH Vice-President.
Today, the Minsk City Court confirmed the sentencing of human rights defender Ales Bialiatski to four and a half years of imprisonment under strict regime conditions and the confiscation of property, including the premises used for Viasna’s offices, for “concealment of profits on an especially large scale in pursuance of prior agreements” under Article 243, part 2, of the Criminal Code. Mr. Bialiatski was represented by his lawyer at the trial, which lasted 40 minutes and ended with the verdict one hour and a half later.
Following sentencing by the first instance court on November 24, 2011, Belarusian NGOs had launched a campaign to collect money in order to cover material damages allegedly done to the State and court expenditures, which amounted to a total of 757,526,717 Belarusian Rubles (approximately 70,000 Euros), to which he had been sentenced by the court of first instance. Days before the appeal, the entire amount of the fine was paid. All motions filed by Mr. Bialiatski’s lawyer were rejected without due consideration under the pretext that it was obvious for the judges that Mr. Bialiatski was guilty. All this demonstrate the politically motivated nature of this condemnation.
The Observatory considers that the prosecution, detention and sentencing of Mr. Ales Bialiatski amounts to judicial harassment of a human rights defender for carrying out purely legitimate human rights activities, protected under all international human rights standards. This criminal case was fabricated to intimidate and silence the Belarusian civil society, which intensified during the post-electoral repression of all voices dissenting with the regime.
“For the past year, the situation in Belarus has gone from bad to worse. This sentencing sends the unequivocal signal that the authorities do not intend to make any progress to comply with their human rights obligations”, says Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “It is a sad day for Belarus and for human rights. The authorities do not let any space for human rights NGOs to exist. In consequence, all human rights principles are challenged today in Belarus”.
The Observatory recalls that other members of HRC “Viasna” have also been harassed over the past weeks, including its Vice-Chairman, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich. In addition, today‘s verdict being enforceable, HRC “Viasna” must evacuate its headquarters.
The criminal case was based on information provided to the Belarusian authorities by the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice and Attorney General of Poland, concerning accounts opened by Mr. Bialiatski in foreign banks to operate HRC “Viasna”. The Belarusian tax authorities wrongly considered the money on the account of Mr. Bialiatski’s as his personal income and accused him of concealing it. This money, which was transferred by organisations for the purpose of funding ordinary human rights activities, was by no means used as personal funds but to finance legitimate activities of the HRC “Viasna”, such as election monitoring and assistance provided to victims of political repression.
“This ruling is a travesty of justice. Receiving funding for human rights work is fully legitimate. It must not be criminalised but supported“, says Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.
The Observatory firmly denounces the sentencing of Mr. Bialiatski and calls upon the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him as his detention is arbitrary, guarantee in all circumstances his physical and psychological integrity, and stop any kind of harassment – including at the judicial level – against human rights defenders, in line with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments ratified by Belarus.
For more information, please contact:
· FIDH: Karine Appy / Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: + 41 22 809 49 39