A portrait of Ales Bialiatski, vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights and the head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was installed in front of the Mayor’s office of the 11th arrondissement of Paris on May 11, 2012.
FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen makes speech at this rally.
It is hard to believe that Ales Bialiatski, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, has already spent nine months in prison in Belarus. Convicted in a trumped-up case and sentenced to 4,5 years in a maximum security penal colony, he is now paying for his relentless fight to defend human dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms with his own freedom. Ales, our friend and colleague, is also chairman of the Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna and a well-known human rights defender respected throughout the international community.
In the 1980s, Ales Bialiatski, a young Belarusian writer, started joining a number of democratic movements. At that time, when Europe was still divided by the iron curtain, he was helping to organize the first demonstrations against totalitarianism. These efforts would lead to his arrest in 1988—the first in a long succession of arrests and prosecutions.
In 1996 in response to intensified crackdowns by the Lukashenko regime, Ales founded the Human Rights Center Viasna, an organization dedicated to helping victims of political repressions and informing the global community about the crackdowns in Belarus. In 2003, Viasna suffered the same fate as hundreds of other associations and was shuttered under a judgment issued by a court controlled by the government, forcing it to continue on as an underground organization.
Still, Ales, who quickly attained international recognition, did not cease his activities and was honored with a number of awards and prizes.
Today Belarus is the last remaining dictatorship in Europe. The country’s population suffers constantly from political crackdowns and gross violations of human rights committed by the Lukashenko regime.
In 2007, just three years after Viasna joined the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Ales Bialiatski was elected vice-president of this organization, becoming the first person from a country in the former Soviet bloc to hold this position.
Since then, he has completed numerous missions in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Armenia. He has monitored politically motivated trials, supported the families of prisoners, and investigated mass crimes.
Ales has also worked actively at the international level and participated in various solidarity actions. He has shared his experience with human rights defenders in Egypt, Tunis, and Cuba. He has visited all these countries and was even in Tunis after the revolution to participate in an emergency meeting with representatives of civil society.
Ales Bialiatski has always been convinced of the singular importance of cooperation between human rights defenders and their colleagues at both regional and international levels and of international solidarity in and of itself. He has tirelessly worked to develop collaboration and solidarity with human rights defenders and victims of crackdowns.
Ales himself has visited prisons where human rights defenders are held. Now he shares their fate.
Since Ales’ arrest, our mobilization efforts have not let up for even one minute, and we are very pleased by the unconditional support we have received from City Hall in Paris. Today this support manifests itself in the portrait of Ales that has been hung in the mayor’s office of the 11th arrondissement, where FIDH’s international secretariat has its office.
We would like to express our gratitude to Mr. Patrick Bloche, mayor of the 11th arrondissement, and Mr. Pierre Schapira, deputy mayor for international relations, for their support. We are also grateful to Mr. Zimeray, the Ambassador for Human Rights under the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as his counterparts from Finland, Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands, for attending.
We will fight for Ales Bialiatski right up until his very release. We hope that other cities throughout the world will follow the example of this gesture of solidarity made by City Hall in Paris.
Three days before his death, Vaclav Havel sent Ales a letter in prison. He wished Ales courage and gave the example of his country’s history as a source of hope. This letter was a handing off of the baton to Ales so that Ales would continue Havel’s fight for human dignity. It was also an appeal to Europe and the international community to unite unconditionally and with all their power to support civil activists. It is precisely on this that the fate of Ales Bialiatski and, ultimately, the fate of all of Europe rest today.