Observatory has been informed of the conviction on appeal of Messrs.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Chairman of the Human Rights Center
Deputy Head of Viasna and Vice-President of FIDH, and Uladzimir
April 21, 2023, the appeal of the three human rights defenders was
heard before the Minsk City Court. The judges confirmed the heavy
sentences imposed on them by the Lieninski District Court of Minsk on
March 3, 2023: 10 years of imprisonment against Ales Bialiatski, nine
years against Valiantsin Stefanovich and seven years against
Uladzimir Labkovich. The eight-year prison sentence imposed on human
rights defender Zmitser
who was tried in absentia, was also upheld.
human rights defenders have been arbitrarily detained since July 14,
2021, and prosecuted on trumped-up charges of “smuggling” and
“financing group actions that disrupted public order” (Part 4 of
Article 228, and Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code of
Belarus, respectively). On March 3, 2023, after a trial marred with
violations, the Lieninski District Court of Minsk sentenced the three
defenders to heavy prison terms. This decision caused an outcry from
human rights organisations
and friendly national governments, who deplored this unjust sentence.
March 29, the prosecutor Aliaksandr Karol appealed the verdict of the
Lieninski District Court of Minsk. The Observatory recalls that the
prosecutor requested for two more years of imprisonment and higher
fines than imposed by the judge.
that on July 14, 2021, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and
Uladzimir Labkovich were arbitrarily detained by officers
of the Financial Investigations Department of Belarus. The accusation
against them was made up after 120 searches and raids across the
country, and interviews of about 100 witnesses. They were initially
arrested and detained for 14 months on bogus charges of “tax
evasion” (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Belarus Criminal Code), but in
September 2022, new charges of “smuggling” and “financing group
actions that disrupted public order”, for which they have been
sentenced, were filed against them, leaving little time for the
defendants and their lawyers to prepare a new defence strategy before
the opening of the trial in January 2023.
trial opened on
January 5, 2023. All the proceedings against the three human rights
defenders were marred with multiple human rights violations, and
the defendants appeared to have lost a lot of weight and being in
frail condition after having spent 17 months in appalling detention
conditions, with Mr Bialiatski being held in a
semi-basement floor with poor access to sunlight.
investigation into Messrs Bialiatski, Stefanovich and Labkovich case
lasted over a year, which is contrary to Belarusian law and
international standards. In addition, their family members have been
systematically denied access to the detainees, their access to their
lawyers has been severely limited, and all communications by mail
have been harshly censored by the authorities.
nature of the sentence against the three human rights defenders shows
they were prosecuted for carrying out legitimate human rights
activities. The defendants have been convicted for allegedly bringing
a large sum of money into Belarus and using it for criminal purposes.
During the trial, among the imputed “criminal purposes” the
prosecution named the following: assisting detainees after
demonstrations, paying lawyers’ fees, organising independent
election monitoring, and continuing Viasna’s activities after its
liquidation. The prosecution further alleged that the money was
imported in small amounts so as not to declare it. These acts,
according to the prosecution, were committed as part of an organised
group, that is, Viasna.
reprisals against Viasna and its members are part of a broader
crackdown on civil society in Belarus following the mass protests
against the 2020 Presidential elections fraud. In 2021 alone, the
authorities shut down more than 275 human rights
organisations, leaving not one legally operating human rights NGO in
the country. Viasna is one of the leading Belarusian human rights
organisations and has long been at the forefront of the Belarusian
human rights movement.