100 days in prison: Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich
Today marks 100 days since Viasna human rights defenders Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich were arrested for their peaceful human rights activities. They were detained on July 14 on charges of “organizing active actions that grossly violate public order” and “tax evasion” and have since been held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk.
During these 100 days, their families, friends and colleagues have not received too many letters and news from them, but the imprisoned Viasna members remain steadfast in their views and values even behind bars.
Here are excerpts earlier interviews with our colleagues, which are still relevant today.
The founder and leader of Viasna, Ales Bialiatski, was one of the first to stand up for the rights of citizens in Belarus and dedicated his entire life to human rights activities.
“It should be noted that our work and human rights activities in general around the world are based on international solidarity and cooperation. Thanks to this, we have increased the efficiency of our work by having friends and long-term partners in different countries of Europe and the world who help us to raise issues of Belarus, for example, in such institutions as the UN, the Council of Europe, and the European Union. The international human rights community contributes to the fact that Viasna acts as a significant human rights force, which is perceived very seriously, which allows us, in turn, to raise the problems of Belarus at different levels.
Essentially, I am satisfied with the results of our work. We have done a lot to make politicians and the Belarusian public understand the importance of human rights – it’s the people who, after the situation changes, will focus on these rules and standards in their activities, unlike the current government. This is very important. And the second point is that we are an important factor in the perception of the socio-political situation in Belarus, because our human rights information and assessments occupy a worthy place and are taken very seriously."
Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, joined human rights activities after Ales Bialiatski urged him to do so in 1998.
“I have always been a supporter of Viasna being the strongest organization, responding to all challenges in a timely manner, being at the forefront of all events. And this, of course, does not go unnoticed by the authorities. Therefore, there is always strong pressure: arrests, particular attention when crossing the border, endless financial audits of me and my family, dirty defamation in the state media. On the other hand, there is a great responsibility for what we do.
I think that after the regime changes, we will have even more work, but we will have to work at another level - with the state as a partner. We will start our efforts to transform the existing legal and other systems: the penitentiary system, the reform of the courts, and the reform of the bar. We have accumulated many developments, our experience can be used successfully. It is also important to create a mechanism of public control over the activities of law enforcement agencies so that human rights activists can be included in special councils. There is always a conflict of interests, between the public and the state, so we will not be left without work. Human rights activists do not just criticize the government, may it be good or bad, they protect people.”
The coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” Uladzimir Labkovich became a member of Viasna in 2001. Here’s what he said when answering the question why he engaged himself with human rights:
“First of all, because at the time when I was making my choice, it was an organization of like-minded people, an organization that considered and still considers human rights as part of national values, and this is important for the state. Then, of course, there was a sense of friendship, which I really appreciate. At that moment, and now too, Viasna is the organization in which people talk about the same things and they speak the same language.
I also have a lot of personal connections with Viasna: when I observed the presidential election in Ukraine in 2004 on behalf our Human Rights Center, during the third round, I worked with a girl who was not from Belarus. Later she became my wife. It turns out that I became happy in my personal life thanks to my human rights activities, too.”
Today Uladzimir Labkovich turns 43, but he has to celebrate his birthday behind bars.
Today, Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, celebrates his 43rd birthday. Unfortunately, our colleague will not be able to mark his special day together with family and friends, as he is still behind bars for his human rights activities.
We encourage you to continue to support our colleagues with postcards and letters of solidarity!
SIZO-1, 220030, Minsk, vulica Valadarskaha 2
Ales Bialiatski (Бяляцкаму Аляксандру Віктаравічу)