Belarusian authorities had no right to prosecute Byalyatski on basis of information obtained from Lithuania, says justice minister

2011 2011-11-25T15:47:15+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en

Authorities in Belarus did not have the right to use information obtained from the Lithuanian justice ministry on Ales Byalyatski’s bank account in the Baltic state to prosecute the human rights activist, Lithuanian Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius said in an interview with the Baltic News Service on Thursday, BelaPAN said.

Lithuania annulled the information, provided to Belarus’ authorities on the basis of a legal assistance agreement earlier this year, when the tax evasion trial of Mr. Byalyatski began in Minsk, said the minister.

On November 24, Judge Syarhey Bandarenka of the Pershamayski District Court in Minsk sentenced Mr. Byalyatski, the 49-year-old leader of a human rights organization called Vyasna (Spring) and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, to four and a half years in prison on a charge of large-scale tax evasion.

The charge stemmed from information about Mr. Byalyatski`s bank accounts abroad, which was provided by authorities in Lithuania and Poland. During his trial, Mr. Byalyatski insisted that the money transferred by various foundations to his bank accounts had been intended to finance Vyasna`s activities and had not been used for personal spending.

Mr. Simasius said that he condemned the sentence. There were many clear signs that the trial was politically motivated, he said.

He said that following Mr. Byalyatski’s trial, Lithuania would do everything possible to ensure that "such an incident" never recurred.

There are no plans to engage in political contacts with Belarus or cooperate with its law enforcers, he said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, for his turn, said that Lithuania was determined to back Mr. Byalyatski’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He expressed regret that authorities in Belarus had used the information from Lithuania to prosecute Mr. Byalyatski.

“I am sure that the name of Byalyatski will soon become a symbol of freedom on a par with the names of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Andrei Sakharov of Russia," said Mr. Azubalis. "As experience and history shows, [repressive] regimes have no hopes when confronting such symbols.”