Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Byalyatski refuses to blame governments of Lithuania, Poland for his imprisonment

Naviny.by

Human rights defender Ales Byalyatski has refused to put the blame on the governments of Lithuania and Poland for his imprisonment.

"It is certain officials in Lithuania and Poland rather than the countries' governments who were involved in that," Mr. Byalyatski said during an online questions-and-answers session hosted by Naviny.by on Wednesday. "The governments have consistently supported democratic changes in Belarus. I hope very much that everyone has drawn the necessary conclusions in the situation."

On November 24, 2011, Mr. Byalyatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on a charge of large-scale tax evasion. The charge stemmed from information about his bank accounts abroad, which was thoughtlessly provided by authorities in Lithuania and Poland under interstate legal assistance agreements. During his trial, Mr. Byalyatski insisted that the money transferred by various foundations to his bank accounts abroad had been intended to finance Vyasna’s activities and therefore could not be viewed as his income subject to taxation.

Speaking on June 25, four days after his release from prison under an amnesty law, Mr. Byalyatski stressed that his imprisonment and early release were both politically motivated. "The regime now thinks about the normalization of relations with the European Union, which has insisted on the release of all political prisoners in Belarus," he said, adding that "seven more political prisoners" remained in the country. "Neither we, nor the Belarusian authorities, nor the European Union, nor the international community should by any means forget about that," he said.

According to Mr. Byalyatski, he could emigrate from Belarus after learning of the tax evasion charge against him but chose to stay in the country and defend his innocence.

The activist never admitted his guilt or appealed to Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a presidential pardon and still considers himself innocent. "The prosecution of rights defenders for alleged tax evasion has been used by other authoritarian governments, in particular my colleagues in Azerbaijan and Iran are in prison on this charge," he said.