Belarus: Free writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski

Writer and prominent human rights defender Ales Bialiatski was arrested on 14 July 2021 and has been held in pre-trial detention in Minsk since 17 July. Bialiatski is chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna, a leading human rights organisation whose work and members have been repeatedly targeted by the Belarusian authorities. Bialiatski faces up to seven years in prison on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, under Article 243 (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. A date for his trial hearing has yet to be set.

PEN International believes that Ales Bialiatski is being targeted for his human rights work, and for exercising his right to peaceful assembly and expression. The organisation calls for his immediate and unconditional release and for all charges against him to be dropped.

TAKE ACTION: Please send appeals to the Belarusian authorities, calling on them to:

  • Release Ales Bialiatski immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against him;
  • Pending his release, ensure that he is provided with regular communication with his family, lawyers and adequate health care;
  • Abide by their international human rights obligations and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

Send appeals to:

Andrei Shved

Role: Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus

Address: Vul. Internatsianalnaya 22, 220030 Minsk, Belarus

Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by

Vladimir Makei

Role: Minister of Foreign Affairs

Address: Vul. Lienina, 19, Minsk 220030, Belarus

Email: mail@mfa.gov.by

Send copies to the Embassy of Belarus in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://mfa.gov.by/en/bilateral/belarus/?asd50

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Belarus, calling on them to raise Ales Bialiatski’s case in bilateral fora.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 31 September 2022. ***

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and any responses you receive. Messages can be sent to Aurélia Dondo, Europe Programme Coordinator: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

Solidarity

Please send messages of solidarity to:

Ales Bialiatski (Аляксандру Віктаравічу Бяляцкаму)

SIZO-1, vulica Valadarskaha 2

220030, Minsk

Belarus

The prison administration is more likely to accept messages if written in Russian. Please find a model letter below:

Dear Ales, we stand with you and celebrate your work and courage. We will keep advocating for your freedom.

Дорогой Алесь, мы c вами! Мы невероятно ценим ваш труд и мужество! Мы будем и дальше бороться за вашу свободу!

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Ales Bialiatski and the state of freedom of expression in Belarus;
  • Share information about Ales Bialiatski and your campaigning activities via social media. Please use #FreeViasna.

Please keep us informed of your activities.

Background

Ales Bialiatski (Аляксандру Віктаравічу Бяляцкаму), born on 25 September 1962, is a literary scholar, essayist, and human rights defender. He 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. In April 1996 he founded the Viasna Human Rights Centre, a human rights organisation that campaigns for opposition activists who are harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities.

In March 2021, the Belarusian Investigative Committee opened a case against Viasna Human Rights Centre under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organising and financing actions that grossly violate public order), as part of a broader crackdown on independent media and civil society since the disputed presidential elections of 9 August 2020. As Chairman of Viasna, Ales Bialiatski was summoned for questioning to the central office of the Investigative Committee on 7 April 2021. He demanded a protocol of interrogation in Belarusian, which took several days to produce.

On 14 July 2021, Ales Bialiatski was detained alongside several Viasna colleagues following raids by Belarusian law enforcement officers on more than a dozen civil society and human rights organisations, including Viasna. Ales Bialiatski was transferred to pretrial detention on 17 July and subsequently charged under Article 243 (2) of the Criminal Code (tax evasion). He remains in pre-trial detention, a date for his trial hearing has yet to be set. Seven members of Viasna were behind bars on trumped-up charges at the time of writing. There are concerns about their conditions of detentions, as human rights defenders are routinely denied phone calls or visits from family members and their correspondence is often blocked.

It is not the first time Ales Bialiatski is being targeted by the Belarusian authorities. On 4 August 2011, he was arrested on spurious charges of tax evasion – he used his personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to fund Viasna, as the organisation could not hold a bank account in Belarus. On 24 November 2011, Bialiatski was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in a high security prison colony, with all of his property confiscated. The PEN Community actively campaigned for his release; he was freed under prisoner amnesty on 21 June 2014.

Mass and largely peaceful protests have swept Belarus since the disputed presidential elections of 9 August 2020, which saw Alexander Lukashenko return to a sixth term in office. The Belarusian authorities have responded with brutality and repression, and moved to ‘purge’ civil society, notably dissolving the Belarusian PEN Centre. According to a compelling report published by the Center, over 1000 cultural workers have been persecuted since January 2021.

For more information about PEN’s work on Belarus, including PEN International’s Resolution on Belarus, adopted at Congress in September 2021, please click here.

For more information about Viasna, and the #FreeViasna campaign, please click here.

Watch PEN International’s Webinar Freedom of Expression: Repression and Resolve in Belarus, Nicaragua, and Eritrea (November 2021): https://youtu.be/BvFf4NY-HJE

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 email: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org