Recently released human rights activist Ales Bialiatski concludes European tour in Warsaw
WARSAW, July 14, 2014 | Belarusian human rights activist, Ales Bialiatski, visited Warsaw from July 9 to 12 - the final stop in a European tour that has taken him to Vilnius, Brussels, Strasbourg and Paris since his unexpected release under an amnesty on June 21. Bialiatski had served three years of a 4.5 year sentence on trumped-up charges of tax evasion.
Bialiatski, head of the Minsk-based Human Rights Center "Viasna", came to Warsaw on the invitation of the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Stefan Batory Foundation. Here he met with top Polish politicians, including the Head of the President's Office, Jacek Michalowski, Foreign Affairs Minister Radek Sikorski, as well as former Polish dissident Adam Michnik and other civil society representatives.
During an open meeting at the Batory Foundation, Bialiatski commented: 'It is important that the EU does not lose sight of Belarus. It is important that Belarus is not isolated. Particularly important for us is cooperation with Poland and Lithuania, as we are in the same region. My trip to Europe is connected with resolving the issue of political prisoners in Belarus'. ??When asked what has changed in Belarus in the past three years, Mr. Bialiatski said 'I was struck by the fact that many non-political, cultural, linguistic and social initiatives have appeared in Belarus. This proves that our civil society is developing'.
The President of Viasna stressed that he did not blame Poland for his imprisonment. At a meeting in the Chancellery, the head of the Presidential Office, Jacek Michalowski, however, apologised on the President's behalf for the fact that one of the grounds for Bialiatski's sentence were due to the actions of a Polish prosecutor.
Talks with Radek Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as in the Polish Sejm with members of the Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs, headed by Grzegorz Schetyna, looked at the issue of Belarus' information space. Sikorski also promised ongoing support for Belarusian NGOs.
In addition, Bialiatski had a teleconference with Poland's ombudsman, Professor Irena Lipowicz, to discuss how the Ombudsman for Human Rights in Poland can help NGOs in Belarus.
Bialiatski's meeting with Gazeta Wyborcza's editor-in-chief, Adam Michnik, revealed that both had had similar prison experiences, and had prompted both to start writing books. They also discussed the difficulties facing independent Belarusian media.
At a meeting with Warsaw-based Belarusian NGOs in the Belarusian House, the situation for the political opposition and political prisoners was the focus of conversation. In a symbolic gesture, Bialiatski was asked to remove a photograph from the wall, in which he is pictured behind bars.
Ales Bialiatski's visit was not without surprises: on Saturday, at the Warsaw Eastern European conference, a bomb alert interrupted his speech on human rights in Belarus. After police checks, Mr. Bialiatski was able to continue his speech.
At the same event, Bialiatski was handed the Lew Sapeha Award that he had been awarded in 2012, in absentia. The award, established in 2006 by Studium Europy Wschodniej at Warsaw University and Kolegium Europy Wschodniej, is given to outstanding Belarusian citizens who help to develop and shape civil society, and work towards a democratic Belarus.