Ales Bialiatski's wife on her husband's reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize: "He is very impressed by this news"
The chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna Ales Bialiatski has been held in a pre-trial detention center for seventeen months. There, the human rights activist learned that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. But he will not be able to get to the presentation ceremony — a criminal case against him and other residents was sent to the court. In Belarus, the Nobel laureate faces from 7 to 12 years in prison for human rights activities. Ales Bialiatski's wife Natalia Pinchuk told Viasna how she took the news about the award and how Ales himself took it, shared her opinions on whether it would affect his situation and how Ales feels now.
"There were no expectations"
On October 7, 2022, it became known that the political prisoner and head of the Human rights center Viasna Ales Bialiatski, the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties and the Russian human rights organization Memorial were declared Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Natalia says it was absolutely unexpected since the human rights defender had been nominated for the award five times already:
"It was overwhelming news, though pleasant and joyful, despite all the conflicting feelings. Now, unlike in the previous years when Ales was nominated for the award, there were no expectations since no one knew about it.
Earlier, when Ales was imprisoned (2011-2014), there was close attention in the world to him and other political prisoners of that time, but now such attention was not felt. I explained this by the fact that there are countless people behind bars now, and attention should be distributed among them all. And that lull formed the idea in my mind that they had forgotten about Ales at all, and there was not even a thought about a prize of this level. We are now living in dark times when people are thrown into prisons and have to survive as best they can, so we could not count on anything more."
"This is an award for those Belarusians who have hopes for freedom and liberty"
Natalia is convinced that the decision of the Nobel Committee has become a support for many Belarusian men and women who continue to fight for freedom:
"I think this is an award for those Belarusians who have shown themselves to be real citizens of their country, who strive for freedom and liberty. This award is a reference point for them. I think Belarusians took this news with joy and hope."
"For one or two "extra" words, a letter can simply be thrown into the trash by the censor"
Within two months after the news of the award, there was not a single mention about it in the letters coming from Ales from the pre-trial detention center:
"When I told him the news during my visit, it appeared to be absolutely unexpected, though joyful, for him, and he still can't come to his senses. He is very impressed by this news."
There is also no detailed information about the conditions in which Ales Bialiatski is being held. At the end of August, human rights activists learned that the chairman of the Human Rights Center was being held in the so-called "special corridor" - a basement with poor conditions.
"We only know that he is now being held in the same place as before. Nothing else is known. As far as I understood over all this time, he is generally forbidden to talk about the conditions of detention, how the investigation is going, to speak about the current political situation and so on. Sometimes you can learn about this from other political prisoners. His letters are almost sterile, because theoretically, for one or two "extra" words a letter can simply be thrown into the trash by the censor. But even so not all letters are forwarded. It seems that they just throw out either even or odd ones."
"The conditions of detention in our prisons lead to a deterioration in the health of everyone who is there”
Natalia notes that Ales looks calm, but his health still causes concern and worry:
"He's holding up but it's still clear that his health is deteriorating. This is a big problem not only for Ales but for all prisoners. We have to admit that the conditions of detention in our prisons lead to a deterioration in the health of everyone who is there. It is difficult to say whether prisoners are taken out into the fresh air, whether this happens regularly. For all the time I only read about it once in his letter.
Ales rarely shows that something bad is happening. Therefore, his stories about himself are quite brief and not always specific. And I have to get information through indirect questions to him. It was our first date in a year and a half. I was glad to see him, we were glad to see each other."
"This should give hope to those who are being held in prisons"
On November 28, it became known that the Prosecutor General's Office sent a criminal case against Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovich and lawer Uladzimir Labkovich to the court. This became known from the press release of the Prosecutor General's Office. Unfortunately, such press releases are the only source of information about the progress of the "Viasna case" for relatives and colleagues of the imprisoned human rights defenders. The trial date is still unknown.
"It is difficult to say whether this court trial will be open or closed. After all, the situation is unpredictable, as the experience of other political prisoners shows."
According to Natalia, if the award does not directly change the situation of Ales Bialiatski and other human rights defenders declared political prisoners, it will still be a great hope and support for all political prisoners of Belarus:
"It is difficult to say whether the award of the prize will somehow affect the situation with Ales. As you can see, they proceed with the case even after all those events. The authorities give a sign that nothing is changing. There is no hope for something positive. The only thing that is important in this award is that Belarus is heard. This award is a sign that Belarusians have not been forgotten, and this is essential. This should give hope to those who are being held in prisons to some extent."
It should be recalled that on the morning of July 14, employees of the Department of Financial Investigations came to Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Valiantsin Stefanovich and other Viasna members to conduct searches. Shortly afterwards, they were charged under Part 2 of the article 243 of the Criminal Code and placed in custody. A year later, the charges were changed to tougher ones. Now they are accused of smuggling (illegal movement of large amounts of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union by an organized group) under Part 4 of the article 228 of the Criminal Code and the financing of group actions that grossly violate public order, according to part 2 of the article 342 of the Criminal Code. The case was sent to court, but the date of consideration has not yet been set. The human rights defenders of Viasna face from 7 to 12 years in prison.