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Early release for Belarusian writer and human rights defender

Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski is welcomed by his supporters at a railway terminal in Minsk, 21 June 2014
Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski is welcomed by his supporters at a railway terminal in Minsk, 21 June 2014

AP Photo/Dmitry Brushko

PEN International welcomes the release following an amnesty, on 21 June 2014, of the Belarusian writer and human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski. The organisation is calling for the Belarusian authorities to clear his record of the politically-motivated charges on which he was convicted almost three years ago.

Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, said:

“Ales Bialiatski's unjust imprisonment is emblematic of the harsh challenges facing writers and activists in Belarus, a country whose government continues to severely restrict the rights to free expression, free association and assembly. Whilst welcoming Bialiatski's release, we remain deeply concerned by Belarus' systematic political intimidation of both foreign and national media, which pushes writers and journalists into self-censorship.”

Bialiatski is the founder of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, a Belarusian non-governmental organisation that campaigns for opposition activists who are harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. On 4 August 2011, Bialiatski was arrested on spurious charges of tax evasion; on 24 November 2011, he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years' imprisonment in a high security prison colony, with all of his property confiscated.

PEN campaigned for Bialiatski's release, maintaining that he had been targeted as part of the Belarus authorities' crackdown on free expression which began in late 2010. He was a key focus of the 79th PEN International Congress, held in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was selected to be the honorary 'Empty Chair'.

At the same Congress, PEN addressed a public letter to President Lukashenko, demanding that Bialiatski be freed, that his conviction be overturned, and that he be provided with an enforceable right to compensation for his arbitrary detention. The letter was signed by PEN International's president, John Ralston Saul, and by 51 PEN centres from around the world.

Bialiatski was kept in harsh conditions whilst in prison. On his release, he spoke of the isolation he had experienced whilst incarcerated:

"Political prisoners in Belarusian jails are kept in different conditions than other prisoners. For instance, no one was allowed to talk to me, even if it was a friendly chat about weather or football, a person who approached me could be punished by the prison authorities. That was just one of many examples of physiological pressure political prisoners face in jail."

He also said:

"I am not sorry for those three years I spent in prison. This is the price you pay for making Belarus a free and democratic country. If we want to improve our life and drag Belarus out of the swamp it has been in for 20 years already, we need to be active and not to be afraid of repressions civil society faces. I knew what I was in prison for - that is why it was easy for me emotionally."

Background

Ales Bialiatski was a founding member of the Belarusian literary organisation Tutejshyja (The Locals), and served as a former head of the Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum in Minsk. He has been awarded several human rights prizes in recognition of his work, most recently being awarded the first ever Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in September 2013. He is a Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights.

In 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his detention was arbitrary and urged the Belarusian authorities to release him and accord him an enforceable right to compensation.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Ales Bialiatski: "Hope my release is only the beginning"

    "I hope my release is only the beginning, and other political prisoners will also be free. I call on the Belarusian authorities with the demand not to stop only on releasing Bialiatski. Because my release does not make the situation any better.We must be a country without political prisoners."

  • Belarus: Human rights defender freed

    "Every day Ales Bialiatski spent in prison was one day too many,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “From the very beginning, this case had nothing to do with justice and was solely about retaliation for Bialiatski’s human rights work."

  • Belarus's Amnesty for Ales Bialiatski Begins to Correct Government Wrongs

    "The amnesty for Bialiatski over the weekend is a positive first step in mending the damage done by the Belarusian government by wrongly imprisoning this renowned human rights defender for spurious reasons. But an amnesty is not a full rehabilitation, and the Belarusian government should clear Bialiatski’s record of all charges."

  • IFJ / EFJ Welcome release of Belarusian journalist & human rights defender Ales Bialiatski

    "We welcome the release of our colleague Ales Bialiatski and we join his family, friends and colleagues to celebrate this wonderful news," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "But it is a miscarriage of justice that he served any time at all in prison let alone nearly three years of his life. He committed no crime and his imprisonment was politically motivated and entirely unjust."



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