Updated at 11:30,08-12-2016

Campaign launched to help Byalyatski pay heavy damages

Belarusian human rights groups have launched a campaign to raise funds for helping imprisoned activist Ales Byalyatski pay damages of nearly $90,000 imposed on him by a Minsk district court.

The authorities claim that 757,526,717 rubels is the amount of the damage that was caused by Mr. Byalyatski's crime to the state.

Speaking to reporters in Minsk on Thursday, human rights defenders stressed that the amount should be paid to the state before Mr. Byalyatski's appeal against his sentence was considered by the Minsk City Court. The appeal hearing's date has not been set so far.

If the sum is paid before the hearing, Mr. Byalyatski, 49, may have his prison sentence reduced or commuted.

The groups called on people to make donations within the next few weeks to help Mr. Byalyatski pay the damages.

"The amount that must be paid is indeed very large, but it can be raised if Belarusian society shows its best qualities, such as solidarity, responsibility and aspirations for justice," the groups said in their statement read out at the news conference.

Even if the damages are paid, it will not mean that Mr. Byalyatski admits his guilt, they warned. "This is nothing but our campaign of solidarity aimed at securing the release of the unlawfully convicted human rights defender," the statement said.

A fundraising bank account has already been opened.

Judge Syarhey Bandarenka of the Pershamayski District Court in Minsk on November 24 sentenced Mr. Byalyatski, who is the leader of a human rights group called Vyasna (Spring) and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, to four and a half years in prison on a charge of large-scale tax evasion and made a confiscation order against him.

The charge stemmed from information about Mr. Byalyatski's bank accounts abroad, which was provided by authorities in Lithuania and Poland. 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 had not been used for personal spending.