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I am Ales Bialiatski, I am the chairman of the human rights organization "Viasna" and have been sentenced to 4.5 years in a labour camp. My property has also been confiscated for my alleged "especially large-scale tax evasion".
Distinguished Belarusian human rights defender Ales Bialiatski was arrested in August 2011 and subsequently sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for allegedly concealing substantial income. He is due to be released on 4 February 2016.
Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience imprisoned for his peaceful human rights activities. His detention was politically motivated and aimed to prevent him from further work in defense of human rights in Belarus. Moreover, the trial showed serious violations of international fair trial standards.
Bialiatski opposed the regime already in the 1980s, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union. Two years after the power in the country was seized by the still ruling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Bialiatski co-founded Viasna, an organization based in Minsk. It provided financial and legal help to local political prisoners. Because of these activities, the Belarusian secret service started monitoring him and his colleagues. In 2003, the authorities revoked registration of the organization so that it could not continue to operate and undermine the power of the undemocratic political system in Belarus.
Because Viasna was without a licence since 2003, it could not set up a bank account in Belarus in its name. The authorities have repeatedly rejected Viasna's applications for re-registration since 2003. Therefore the representatives of Viasna opened accounts in neighbouring countries and financed their human rights activities from there. Ales claims that use of accounts abroad was inevitable because the government prevented him from managing money directly in Belarus.
Currently, Ales works six days a week in a garment entreprise within his prison colony. He spends his spare day reading and writing. Amnesty International spoke with his wife, Natalliya, in April, who told us that the cards and letters he receives are a huge support for Ales and that without them it would be much harder for him to bear the pressure from the prison authorities. When asked to elaborate on the prison authorities’ attitude to Ales, Natalliya said she couldn’t as it might put him in danger. She did tell us that the prison authorities try to isolate him from other prisoners and threaten them with punishment if they speak with Ales. Also, Natalliya last saw Ales in January this year but was only able to meet with him once in 2013 as the three other meetings he was entitled to were cancelled by the prison authorities.
Human rights defenders and their families continue to face harassment in so many ways. Even when Amnesty International phoned Natalliya to find out how Ales was doing, she was unable to speak as there were police officers outsider her front door. She told us that her life has changed so much since his arrest and that she is doing all that she can to bring about his release.
Ales has been awarded a number of prizes in recognition of his human rights work, including the prestigious Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize in October 2013.