3 Mar 2023 19:55

EU condemns conviction of Belarusian rights activists, including Nobel prizewinner Belyatsky

BRUSSELS. March 3 (Interfax) - The European Union has expressed its condemnation after Belarusian rights activist and Nobel prizewinner Ales Belyatsky and his colleagues from the Viasna unregistered human rights center were given prison sentences in Minsk on Friday.

"The European Union condemns in the strongest possible terms their sham trials [...] Their call for freedom is loud, even behind bars. The EU calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the more than 1,450 political prisoners in Belarus," EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said in a statement released in Brussels.

"The EU stands ready to react to repression and human rights abuses by the regime against its population.

"The EU will continue to support all those who bravely strive for a sovereign, free, democratic, safe and prosperous Belarus."

It was reported earlier on Friday that a court in Minsk sentenced Belyatsky to 10 years of imprisonment. Valentin Stefanovich got nine years in prison, and Vladimir Labkovich seven. Dmitry Solovyov, who was not present in the courtroom, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The trial of Belyatsky, the head of the Vesna unregistered human rights center, and his colleagues Stefanovich, Labkovich and Solovyov, who left Belarus, began in early January.

The human rights activists were charged with tax evasion. According to the investigators, acting together with "other unidentified persons" they performed work in 2013-2020 and received at least 879,887 Belarusian rubles (about $350,000 by the current exchange rate) as remuneration.

The prosecution said that Belyatsky and his colleagues continued to manage Vesna after it was abolished by the Belarusian Supreme Court in 2003 but did not register the center as a taxpayer and did not submit their tax declarations. The human rights activists are charged with tax evasion totaling over 113,000 Belarusian rubles (about $45,000) in 2013-2020.

Belyatsky is the founder of Vesna, which was abolished by a ruling of the Belarusian Supreme Court in 2003. Together with Stefanovich and Labkovich, he was arrested after searches at Belarusian human rights and non-governmental organizations on July 14, 2021.

In 2022, Belyatsky was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, together with the Memorial Human Rights Center (designated as a foreign agent in Russia) and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.