The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, besides the Ukrainian NGO Center for Civil Liberties and the Russian human rights organization Memorial, to the Belarusian political prisoner Ales Bialiatski. What is he known for?
Ales Bialiatski’s Viasna and protests in Belarus
The 60-year-old Ales Bialiatski is a Belarusian political prisoner who was imprisoned in 2011–2014 and has been detained once again more than a year ago for his human rights advocacy in Belarus.
Bialiatski is the founder and head of the Viasna human rights center created in 1996 and was highly appraised for his contribution to the promotion of peace during these years. Thus, he was awarded the Lech Wałęsa Award in 2012, the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2013, and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2020.
Since 1996, Viasna has provided legal aid to thousands of Belarusians who were persecuted for criticizing the authoritarian policies of Aliaksandar Lukashenka.
Bialiatski actively participated in the 2020 protests in Belarus, being a member of the Coordination Council for organizing the process of overcoming the political crisis.
Ales Bialiatski’s arrest and imprisonment in 2011–2014
In 2011, the human rights activist Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 4.5 years for alleged tax evasion related to the activities of Viasna.
The PACE rapporteur on Belarus, Andres Herkel, explained at the time that since April 2011, Bialiatski has become a target of a slander campaign, and his detention was another example of persecution and intimidation of civil society in the country.
The Council of Europe and the European Parliament called for the release of the human rights activist. Diplomats from Germany, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the U.S. attended his trial on November 2, 2011.
At the same time, visas were not issued to many international human rights advocates who wanted to attend the trial, video recording of the proceedings was prohibited, and several people were escorted out of the courtroom for wearing T-shirts with the "Free Ales Bialiatski" print.
On November 23, the court announced its verdict: Bialiatski was found guilty and sent to a medium-security prison camp with his property confiscated.
The verdict was condemned by the countries of the European Union and the U.S., as well as major international human rights organizations.
Bialiatski was recognized as a prisoner of conscience and a political prisoner, and in 2012, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his sentence to be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 21, 2014, Ales Bialiatski was pardoned and released from the prison camp in Bobruisk, but his family had to pay the damages allegedly inflicted on the state.
The new arrest of Ales Bialiatski in 2021
In 2021, only 7 years after his release, Ales Bialiatski was detained again as part of a criminal case against 9 organizations, including Viasnia, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, and the Belarusian PEN Center.
The arrest was directly linked to the fact that Viasna played one of the key roles in providing assistance to the participants of the Belarusian protests against Lukashenka and gathering information about political prisoners.
A criminal case was opened against Viasna on suspicion of "organization and active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order".
Bialiatski is still in prison, from where he occasionally (very rarely, according to his friends and relatives) sends letters, DW wrote.
Besides him, such well-known human rights activists and volunteers as Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka, and Tatsiana Lasitsa have been detained due to the latest protests in Belarus.
In addition, according to Viasna, Andrei Paluda, Uladzimir Labkovich, Alena Laptsionak, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Yauheniya Babayeva were included in the lists of political prisoners.
According to Bialiatski's wife, Natallia Pinchuk, they mostly correspond about relatives and mutual acquaintances, everyday life, and books, otherwise the letters do not pass prison censorship.
Due to the lawyers' non-disclosure agreement, it is still not fully known what the substance of the criminal case against Bialiatski is, but, among other things, he and other human rights advocates were accused of tax evasion, financing protests, and smuggling.
Ales Bialiatski in culture
Bialiatski's illegal detention and his trumped-up sentence have become part of the cultural space: for example, his arrest is depicted in the film "Higher than the Sky".
In addition, Viktor Sazonov dedicated his book "Prose Poetry" to Bialiatski in 2013: the story of the human rights advocate's life is reflected in the short story "Political Prisoner’s Postcard" in the collection.
Poems and essays were also dedicated to him, in particular, poetry by Uladzimir Nyaklyayew and Siarzhuk Sys and essays by Mikhas Skobla ("Letter from Ales Bialiatski").
In addition, the following documentaries were dedicated to Bilyatskyi:
- "Ales Bialiatski's Candle of Truth" written by Palina Stsepanenka, 2011;
- "Viasna" by director Olga Shved, 2012;
- "1050 days of Solitude" by director Aleh Dashkevich, 2014;
- "A Heart That Never Dies" by director Erling Borgen, 2015.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei also made a portrait of Ales Bialiatski out of Lego bricks for his "Trace" exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.