9 Feb 2023 18:57

Prosecutor asks Belarusian court to sentence Nobel Prize winner Bialiatski to 12 years in prison

MINSK. Feb 9 (Interfax) - A prosecutor has asked a Minsk court trying a number of defendants in a tax evasion case involving the unregistered Belarusian human rights center Viasna to sentence Nobel Prize winner and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski to 12 years in prison, the Belarusian state news agency BelTA said on Thursday.

"The prosecution has asked the court to sentence defendant Ales Bialiatski to 12 years in prison. The prosecution has also asked for nine years of imprisonment for Vladimir Labkovich and 11 years for Valentin Stefanovich. As concerns defendant Dmitry Solovyov, who is hiding abroad, the prosecution asked for ten years of imprisonment for him. The prosecution asked for all the defendants to serve their terms at a heightened security penitentiary," it said.

As reported earlier, a Minsk court is trying Bialiatski, head of the Viasna human rights center not officially registered in Belarus, and his colleagues Valentin Stefanovich, Vladimir Labkovich, and Dmitry Solovyov (the latter is currently staying outside of Belarus).

The rights defenders are charged with tax evasion. According to the prosecution, they and other "unidentified individuals" performed work from 2013 to 2020, for which a reward amounting at least to 879,887 Belarusian rubles (about $350,000 according to the current exchange rate) was paid.

The prosecution concluded that Bialiatski and his colleagues managed Viasna after the organization had been shut down by the Belarusian Supreme Court in 2003, did not register it as a taxpayer, and did not submit documents to the tax authority. The rights defenders have been charged with failing to pay over 113,000 Belarusian rubles (about $45,000 according to the current exchange rate) in taxes in 2013-2020.

Bialiatski is the founder of the Viasna human rights center and has been its chairman. Bialiatski, Stefanovich, and Labkovich were arrested following a series of searches at Belarusian human rights and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on July 14, 2021.

Bialiatski, the Russian Human Rights Center Memorial (designated as a foreign-agent NGO and liquidated in Russia), and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.