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Belarus: Verdict against Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski an effort to quash scrutiny and dissent say UN experts

03 March 2023

GENEVA (3 March 2023) – UN experts* today urged the international community to relentlessly pursue truth and justice for all victims of human rights violations in Belarus, after a court in Minsk delivered a devastating verdict, sentencing Belarusian human rights defender and Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in prison.

“Today’s outcome is the result of targeted use of criminal persecution and instrumentalisation of the justice system by Belarusian authorities to quash all scrutiny and dissent to its repressive policies,” the UN experts said.

“While the ruling is a bitter reminder that there is no independent judiciary in Belarus, the search for accountability and justice must not end,” the UN experts said.

Bialiatski, a co-laureate of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, was convicted on charges of “smuggling by an organised group” and “financing of group actions grossly violating the public order.” The UN experts expressed serious concern about the basis of these charges which allowed for criminal prosecution, and their compliance with the rights to freedom of expression, association, and to conduct human rights work.

The Leninsky District Court of Minsk also sentenced Bialiatski’s Viasna colleagues Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich and Dzmitry Salauyou, to lengthy imprisonment (9, 7, and 8 years respectively) for their work documenting the violent crackdown against hundreds of thousands of protesters who contested the results of the presidential election in August 2020.

Ales Bialiatski founded the Human Rights Centre Viasna or “spring” in 1996, which campaigned against arbitrary arrests and human rights abuses by Belarusian authorities. He was first jailed in 2011 (spending 1052 days in penal colony) and detained again in July 2021, following a raid on Viasna.

“We should honour the courage of all human rights defenders putting their freedom at risk and demand justice for all victims of human rights abuses in Belarus,” the UN experts said following the ruling.

The UN experts are gravely concerned that in its efforts to maintain power at all costs, the current government had eradicated civic space and crushed freedom of expression in Belarus. Based on reports, close to 1500 persons were imprisoned in Belarus on politically motivated charges since 2020.

They reiterated their call for their immediate release from detention, access to a fair trial and reparations for harms suffered.

“Human rights work is criminalised in Belarus at a time when civil society is most crucially needed,” the UN experts said.

The experts: Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Alina Grigoras ([email protected] / + 41 22 917 9583)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

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