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POLITICO: Belarus puts Nobel Peace Prize winner on trial

6-1-2023 |

Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski went on trial in Minsk on Thursday on charges of financing protests against the country’s authoritarian government; he faces up to 12 years in prison if he’s found guilty.

The trial is part of a broader crackdown on the opposition by the government of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Bialiatski’s trial began with the handcuffed 60-year-old human rights activist seated in a cage in the courtroom surrounded by police officers alongside two other defendants.

Photo: Vitaly PIVOVARCHIK/BELTA/Getty Images

Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, alongside prominent Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights watchdog Center for Civil Liberties. The founder of human rights watchdog Viasna was arrested in July 2021 and has been in jail since then. 

The judge rejected his request to have the handcuffs removed and to hold the trial in Belarusian — one of the country’s official languages. The trial is open to the public but Western diplomats were not admitted.

“Nobel Peace Prize winner & Belarusian national hero Ales Bialiatski must be very dangerous for the regime — they conducted 120 searches & collected 300 pages of materials, a new record for a political case. But he’s only dangerous for the criminals who took power from our people,” tweeted opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile and faces trial in absentia on January 17.

Her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who aimed to challenge Lukashenko during the 2020 presidential election, was sentenced in 2021 to 18 years in prison for inciting hatred and social unrest.

Another exiled opposition leader, Pavel Latushko, also faces trial in absentia this month. Andrzej Poczobut, an activist with the country’s Polish minority, goes on trial on January 16. Next week, several independent journalists will also go on trial.

According to Belarusian human rights watchdogs, there are almost 1,500 political prisoners in the country.