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(Moscow) ­­­– Belarusian authorities should immediately and unconditionally free a leading human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski, and drop all charges against him, Human Rights Watch said today. Bialiatski was arrested on August 4, 2011, and imprisoned on politically motivated charges. 

“Every minute Ales Bialiatski spends in prison undermines the rule of law in Belarus,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Belarus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “From the very start the case against Bialiatski has been solely about retaliation for his human rights work. The authorities should free him immediately.”

Bialiatski is vice president of the International Federation on Human Rights and the head of the Belarusian group Human Rights Center Viasna, which monitors elections and provides assistance to political prisoners. In 2003, Belarus authorities withdrew registration for Viasna and have denied the group’s registration requests ever since.

Bialiatski  was charged with bogus claims of tax evasion, prosecuted in a show trial riddled with procedural flaws, and in November 2011 convicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison and confiscation of all his assets. He has lost all appeals.

In June, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Belarus urging the government to free all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally  and “to put an immediate end to arbitrary detention of human rights defenders.” The resolution expressed “grave concern” about systematic human rights violations and appointed a UN expert to document and report back to the council on violations in Belarus.  

“A key first step the Belarusian government can take to comply with the UN resolution is to free Bialiatski,” Gorbunova said. “The Belarusian authorities need to realize that ruling by fear and disregarding international human rights standards is unacceptable and brings international condemnation.”

Bialiatski’s colleagues at Viasna told Human Rights Watch that the staff at Bobruiskaya Correction Facility #2, where he is being held, regularly subjects Bialiatski to psychological pressure. The staff prohibits other detainees from talking to Bialiatski or showing him support, his colleagues said. 

Viasna colleagues also said that staff restricts Bialiatski’s mealtimes, meetings with relatives, and permission to receive parcels from his friends and family members, ostensibly as punishment for violating rules.

Supporters throughout Belarus have sought permission to  hold rallies on August 4, 2012, in support of Bialiatski. Authorities in at least five regions have denied permission, offering arbitrary justifications.

Bialiatski is the recipient of numerous international human rights awards and was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.  

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