The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) is appalled over the news of the arrest of Ales Bialiatski, the head of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), on 4 August 2011.
Ales Bialiatski is accused of gross tax evasion in violation of the art. 243 part 2 of the Criminal Code of Belarus and risks, if convicted, imprisonment up to seven years.
Ales Bialiatski is a laureate of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Sakharov Freedom Award in 2006.
The arrest of Bialiatski follows years of government harassment of Belarus’ most famous human rights organisation, Human Rights Center ’Viasna’. We consider the actions against Bialiatski as politically motivated and clearly related to the efficient work conducted through this human rights organisation.
Ales Bialiatski is a relentless spokesperson for human rights and human rights defender. He has, since founding Human Rights Center ’Viasna, efficiently assisted the victims of human rights abuse in Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko’s rule. During waves of arrests, such as in 2006 and the total crackdown after the peaceful protests on 19 December 2010, Human Rights Center ’Viasna’ has provided legal and material help few others were able to offer.
The case brought against Bialiatski is based on information about funds in a bank account registered in his name in Lithuania. These funds were spent for the assistance of the victims in Belarus and support of civil society. This is legitimate funds made illegitimate by Belarusian draconian laws imposed to suppress civil society activity in Belarus. Thus, the allegations of income tax evasion against Ales Bialiatski are baseless, as the funds obtained by Mr. Bialiatski were not his personal income. Ales Bialiatski has not committed any crime.
Furthermore, we do not believe in Bialiatski’s possibility for a fair trial. The year of 2011 has brought more than fifty new political prisoners to Belarus, and their flawed trials have more than demonstrated the political motives of the Belarusian authorities and the inability to the Belarusian justice system to produce due processes before the courts.
We are deeply sorry that the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice did not consider the safety of the human rights activist Ales Bialiatski before facilitating the transfer of information of his Lithuanian registered DnB NORDs bank account to the authorities of Belarus.
We express our hopes that governments of OSCE member states, including our Norwegian government, engages forcefully, insisting to the Belarusian government that Ales Bialiatski must be released immediately.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee
1. Demands that Belarus immediately releases Ales Bialiatski from custody and terminates the criminal proceedings against him as well as halts the harassment of the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’ and its staff;
2. Asks that the international community, including the intergovernmental organizations OSCE, United Nations, European Union and the Council of Europe to lift the human rights violations in Belarus high on the agenda in general, and the release of Ales Bialiatsky and other political prisoners in particular;
3. Believes that the pressure against Alexander Lukashenko must be increased by means of sanctions. The European Union should carefully consider expanding the number of companies with which trade is restricted. The European Union’s Committee of Ministers adopted in June a ban on BelTechExport, Sport Pari and Private Unitary Enterprise, all closely associated with Lukashenko;
4. Welcomes the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice’s decision to suspend rendering further assistance to the Republic of Belarus. Furthermore, we ask that Lithuania as well as other also other governments must put in place safeguards against sharing information about other human rights defenders’ financial issues with Belarusian authorities, in order to avoid politically motivated legal actions against them.