FIDH Vice-President and his Viasna colleagues sentenced to heavy prison terms

Press release
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3 March 2023 - Three Viasna leaders, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, FIDH Vice-President Valiantsin Stefanovic and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich were sentenced to heavy prison terms today. This unjust punishment comes in retaliation for 25 years of their human rights work in Belarus. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) condemns this verdict against its friends and colleagues, and stays firmly mobilised until their ultimate liberation.

3 March 2023. Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovic, both former and current FIDH Vice-Presidents, and Uladzimir Labkovich were sentenced today to 10, 9 and 7 years of imprisonment respectively. The three were charged with smuggling and financing of actions violating public order. These pretexts were used to sanction their legitimate human rights work as leaders of Viasna, one of the key human rights organisations in Belarus and a member of FIDH.

“Innocent men are imprisoned because they refused to back down, to compromise their values and their work,” declared Alice Mogwe, FIDH President. “FIDH will keep on denouncing their wrongful imprisonment. The global human rights movement opposes these type of actions by authoritarian regimes, who unfortunately seem to feel increasingly emboldened.”

Reacting to the verdict, Ilya Nuzov, Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk at FIDH, who is well acquainted with the defendants, notes: “Seeing our colleagues and friends receive these draconian sentences is painful and enraging. But their courage exemplifies the struggle of the Belarusian people for freedom and democracy that has inspired worldwide solidarity, something the current Belarusian regime will never have.”

Oleksandra Matviitchuk, Vice President of FIDH and Head of Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian NGO, member of FIDH, stated: “The court’s decision is shameful, the political motives of this trumped-up case are clear. Such a massacre of human rights activists must not go unpunished, and we await the reaction of the international community. Especially since the Lukashenka regime poses a threat not only to its own citizens, but also to the security of our entire region.”

Punished for helping victims of Lukashenka repressions

The defendants had already endured more than 17 months of incarceration before their trial began on 5 January 2023. The trial was replete with violations of human rights law. The defendants were handcuffed and placed in a cage inside the courtroom, in violation of the presumption of innocence, were denied the right to an interpreter and were not given sufficient time to familiarise themselves with the hundreds of volumes of case materials, all part of a rigged prosecution. Their defence was no match for the judiciary which has become a mere appendage of the executive branch .

For its role in documenting human rights violations and assisting victims of repressions, Viasna became the target of persecution by the executive authorities. The repression in Belarus has become pervasive and particularly brutal since the 2020 sham Presidential elections, fully erasing the human rights movement and any dissent in the country. With Lukashenka acting as an ally for Russia’s war in Ukraine, any war opposition is also severely repressed.

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