The Human Rights Center “Viasna” has been working without its leader, Ales Bialiatski, for six months already. The human rights activist was detained on 4 August 2011, and sentenced to 4.5 years in maximum security colony with confiscation of property on 24 November.
Isolation of the head of the human rights organization investigations, interrogations of members of the organization and the trial added to worries and anxieties of the center’s staff. However, the activity of “Viasna” is not substantially affected, since the members of the organization have not succumbed to confusion and continued their work.
How is “Viasna” working today, without its permanent leader and inspirer of Ales Bialiatski? What are the thoughts and hopes of “Viasna” members? Members of the Human Rights Center have.
Valiantsin Stefanovich, Deputy Chairperson of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”:
– On the one hand, our work has changed during this time, on the other – has not changed. “Viasna” continues to work actively at the international level with various UN agencies (the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Torture), structures of the European Union and the Council of Europe, as well as with other human rights organizations. It has changed because the question of Ales Bialiatski was added to our habitual activities. We paid much attention to it. We had a number of serious meetings at different meeting. For instance, with the EU Commissioner Fule we talked about the situation in Belarus in general and the situation with Bialatski Ales in particular for about 4 minutes..
I think that the intensity of our work does not decrease, but now it has one more dimension – the case of Ales Bialiatski. Of course, we always talk about such painful issue as existence of political prisoners in Belarus when talking about this criminal case.
Tatsiana Reviaka, member of the Council of the HRC “Viasna”:
– For me it is very important that after the arrest of Ales Bialiatski. “Viasna” continues to work at full strength – none of “Viasna” members left the organization or gave up human rights activism. This is true for all our activities and all spheres where we operate. I think that that is exactly what Aliaksandr had in mind when the court said: “Long live “Viasna”!” and heard the same response.
Arrest Ales further consolidated “Viasna” members and showed once again that “Viasna” is an organization of like-minded people who consciously work for human rights, understanding the threats and challenges of our time. I am very proud of my colleagues and the fact that I belong to this community.
For me personally, the arrest of Alesia was a severe blow, but it was not unexpected. Now we are separated by bars and prison walls, but we remain friends and colleagues, though we can contact each other only through correspondence. Of course, it is difficult without Ales, I am anxious about him, for his health, and also admire his courage and fortitude.
Alena Laptsionak, a member of the HRC “Viasna”:
– Speaking about my emotional state, I must confess that until the last moment I did not believe in the possibility of a prolonged seizure of Ales and such a hard sentence. It’s not because I believe in justice or thought too good about our authorities, but just because it seems to be easier not to thing about the worst and not to wait for it. The more that “Viasna” has worked without registration for so many years, and all dangers passed it by: it was getting stronger and stronger, getting more and more international prestige. On the other hand, I personally recorded interviews with Ales during the previous years and asked questions like “Aren’t you afraid of persecution?” and foresaw the answer that the choice has been made and the price doesn’t matter, though it could sound a bit pathetic at that time.
Now my mind also refuses to accept the events of the recent months: the more that everything except for the absence of our leader remains virtually unchanged, including our business and friends. I have the impression that Ales is just on a business trip and will soon return, and the letters he writes from prison are full of optimism and funny memories of our recent past. My mood goes up when I find a letter from him in my mailbox: you read it, then write something in response – it fells like a talk…
Anastasia Loika, a member of the HRC “Viasna”:
– The work of our reception room hasn’t stopped for a moment after the detention and arrest of Ales Bialiatski. Following his instructions, we started working even more actively despite our own moral state and the increasing external threats.
We also understand that we can be deprived of our office in Minsk since the verdict to the Chairperson of “Viasna” provides for the confiscation of property. However, it won’t happen so quickly. At present we continue working at our office, and we have some emergency variants even if it happens. We will continue giving legal assistance and advice to people.