Belarus’s top human rights advocate and one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, Ales Bialiatski, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October for his work on human rights and democracy, sharing it with the Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties.
Bialiatski and three other top figures of the Viasna Human Rights Centre he founded were charged with financing protests and smuggling money on Friday.
Prosecutors had asked the Minsk court to give Bialiatski, who denied the charges, a 12-year sentence.
The 60-year-old activist is one of the most prominent of hundreds of Belarusians who were jailed during a crackdown on anti-government protests that erupted after longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election and continued into 2021.
The charges against Bialiatski and his colleagues, who were arrested in 2021, were also connected to Viasna’s provision of money to political prisoners and help towards their legal fees.
Poland’s prime minister has denounced the sentencing, saying “Today’s verdict is yet another outrageous decision of a Belarusian court recently.”
“The (Belarusian) authorities have repeatedly tried to silence him, but Ales Bialiatski never conceded in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.”
Berit Reiss-Andersen, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told Reuters: “The case, the verdict against him, is a tragedy for him personally.”
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Bialiatski and other activists sentenced in the same trial had been unfairly convicted, calling the verdict “appalling”.
We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice & free them,” she said on Twitter.
Franak Viacorka, senior adviser to Tsikhanouskaya told Al Jazeera the sentence is “draconian and absolutely inhuman”.
“It’s a personal revenge of Lukashenko to Ales because Ales was very actively supporting Belarusian victims of repression, victims of Russian war against Ukraine, and also it’s revenge on Bialiatski for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize,” Viacorka said.
“Before, Lukashenko was the monopolist on Belarus issues in the world, and now it’s not only about… Lukashenko, it’s also about Ales Bialiatski, [investigative journalist] Svetlana Alexievich, Belarusian heroes who are fighting for freedom and Lukashenko is very jealous about it.”