Belarus: Writer sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment over “politically motivated” charges
Human rights activist and Belarus PEN member Ales Byalyatski was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment on 24 November 2011 on charges of tax evasion. The charges, which stemmed from Byalyatski’s use of personal bank accounts to receive funding for his human rights organization Vyasna, were described as “politically motivated” in a European Union report released earlier this week. The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International condemns the detention of Byalyatski on charges stemming from his legitimate human rights activism and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Byalyatski, head of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights centre, was a founding member of the Belarusian literary organization Tutejshyja (The Locals) and served as a former head of the Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum in Minsk. He is also the author of a book of essays Jogging on the Geneva (2006). He was arrested on 4 August 2011 and charged with tax evasion, charges which stemmed from his reported use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for Vyasna’s human rights activities in Belarus. Vyasna had campaigned for scores of opposition activists persecuted by the government of President Alexsander Lukashenko. The organization had been stripped of its official registration in 2003, making it extremely difficult under Belarus’s economic laws to raise funds for its activities.
On 23 November 2011 European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Fuele called for Byalyatski’s immediate and unconditional release in a joint statement which stated “We consider the charges against Ales Byalyatski in the ongoing trial a politically motivated pretext to target his important work [for] the benefit of victims of repressions”.
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