Christian Holm (MP, Sweden), the Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Belarus, welcomed the release of human rights activist Ales Bialiatski after nearly three years into his prison term, calling the move “hopefully a sign of more to come.”
“The Belarusian government has taken a positive, if long overdue, step in releasing Mr. Bialiatski. His release will not be complete, however, unless authorities allow him and his colleagues in the Belarusian civil society community to work free of state persecution. Mr. Bialiatski’s release is hopefully a sign of more to come: that is, the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners in Belarus and a genuine commitment to upholding OSCE commitments, particularly in the spheres of democracy and human rights,” Holm said.
“I also noted Mr. Bialiatski’s comment that international support was partially responsible for securing his release. That should serve as a reminder to the international community to continue speaking up loudly and frequently on behalf of human rights and their defenders and to hold governments accountable to their commitments,” Holm added.
Bialiatski is the founder and head of Viasna, a leading Belarusian human rights organization that assists political prisoners and their families. The organization has long faced intense pressure from authorities and has been repeatedly denied official registration.
Representatives of Viasna have briefed OSCE parliamentarians on several occasions, including on the eve of the presidential election in Belarus in December 2010.
Bialiatski was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison in November 2011 on tax evasion charges that his supporters say were retribution for his activities. OSCE parliamentarians unsuccessfully requested to visit Bialiatski in detention on several occasions.
The OSCE PA’s 2013 Istanbul Declaration “express[ed] deep concern over the confiscation of property and the closing of the office of the non-government organization Human Rights Centre Viasna in Minsk, and the continued incarceration of the organization’s leader Ales Bialiatski on politically-motivated charges.” The Declaration also called on the government of Belarus to “release and exonerate all political prisoners.”