Start of the trial of Belarusian Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiatski

The trial of jailed Belarusian democracy activist Ales Bialiatski, co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, began in Minsk on Thursday, the Viasna Center he founded, the leading human rights group in the world, announced. his country.

Mr. Bialiatski as well as his collaborators tried with him Valentin Stefanovitch and Vladimir Labkovitch (BIEN Stefanovitch and Labkovitch), appeared in the cage reserved for the defendants, according to images from the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The three men have been detained since July 2021.

Ales Bialiatski, 60, with white hair and wearing a black sweatshirt, sat in the front row, his two companions standing behind him, looking dejected or drowsy in the cage surrounded by four armed police.

Initially charged with tax evasion, they are now accused of bringing large amounts of cash into Belarus and of having “financed collective actions seriously undermining public order”, Viasna explained in November, adding that they risked seven to 12 years in prison.

All three pleaded not guilty on Thursday.

Mr. Bialiatski, who in 1996 created Viasna (“Spring”), received the Nobel Peace Prize alongside two other human rights organizations, Memorial (Russia) and the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine).

He and his two collaborators were imprisoned after the 2020 massive protests against the regime following the unilaterally proclaimed victory in the presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, who has led Belarus since 1994.

– “Theatrical” justice –

A fourth defendant, Dmitri Solovyov, is tried in absentia after fleeing to Poland. “It’s a bogus trial,” he told AFP, “I don’t trust this trial and what’s going to happen there.”

He called the charges “absurd” and the legal process “theatre”, adding: “The law does not exist in Belarus. The process is completely controlled by a government of gangsters.”

Human rights organization Amnesty International called the trial ‘a flagrant act of injustice’, saying it was ‘retaliation’ against the defendants for ‘their activism’ .

Lukashenko’s government “is particularly vindictive towards human rights activists and the outcome of the ‘trial’ looks set to be ruthless,” Amnesty International said.

The 2020 movement had gathered tens of thousands of people on the streets of Minsk and other cities for weeks before being gradually crushed with mass arrests, forced exiles and imprisonment of opponents, media and NGO leaders.

The West has adopted several sets of sanctions against Belarus, which, on the other hand, enjoys the unwavering support of Moscow.

This country has agreed in return to serve as a rear base for Russian troops for their offensive against Ukraine launched on February 24, 2022. But the Belarusian army has not taken part in the fighting on Ukrainian territory so far.

– Serial trial –

The trial of Viasna will be followed by those of independent journalists and that of Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, the figure of the Belarusian opposition, who lives in exile.

Next Monday is due to begin the trial of several journalists from the website, the main independent media in Belarus, including editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova. They face a series of charges including tax evasion and incitement to hatred. This media had been described as “extremist” in 2021.

The same day will be presented in court in Grodno (west) the Belarusian-Polish journalist and activist Andrzej Poczobut, 49, correspondent in Minsk for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, arrested in March 2021. He is accused according to Viasna of incitement to hatred and for calling for “actions aimed at undermining the national security of Belarus”. He faces a twelve-year prison sentence.

On January 17, the trial in absentia of Ms. Tikhanovskaya, 40, will begin, who faces a multitude of charges including high treason, conspiracy to seize power unconstitutionally and creating and leading an extremist organization.

Presidential candidate in place of her imprisoned husband – Sergei Tikhanovski, a video blogger who had galvanized the opposition – she had claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election and now lives in exile in Lithuania.

Sergei Tikhanovski was sentenced in December 2021 to 18 years in prison for “organizing massive unrest”, “inciting hatred in society”, “disturbing public order” and “obstructing the Electoral Commission”.

Belarus had 1,448 political prisoners as of December 31, according to Viasna.

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