Updated at 20:54,07-12-2016

American Bar Association calls for overturning conviction of rights defender Ales Byalyatski

The American Bar Association (ABA) has urged the Minsk City Court to overturn the conviction of human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, BelaPAN said.

After studying the tax evasion case against the 49-year-old leader of an unregistered human rights group called Vyasna (Spring) and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, the ABA said that the imprisonment of Mr. Byalyatski for receiving money on behalf of Vyasna was in violation of Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although the Belarusian authorities have a legitimate interest in taxing Mr. Byalyatski's personal incomes, their decision to view the human rights group's incomes as his own represents an unfounded restriction of his right to freedom of association, the Association stressed.

The ABA acknowledged that in accordance with the Covenant restrictions which are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of, among other, national security may be placed on the exercise of the right. However, it added, the Belarusian authorities failed to prove that in the case of Vyasna such restrictions were necessary and met national interests.

The conviction of Mr. Byalyatski is the result of the unlawful decision to close down Vyasna and his sentence violates his right to freedom of association and therefore must be overturned, the ABA concluded.

As Valyantsin Stefanovich, a member of Vyasna, told BelaPAN, the human rights group did not ask the ABA to study the case and it did so either on its own initiative or at the request of some international organization.

A copy of the Association's conclusions will be delivered to the Minsk City Court, which will hear Mr. Byalyatski's appeal against the sentence at a yet unknown date later this year.

Judge Syarhey Bandarenka of the Pershamayski District Court in Minsk on November 24, 2011 sentenced Mr. Byalyatski 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.

The largest voluntary professional association in the world with some 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. It describes its mission as "to serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession."