The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture, has called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Ales Byalyatski.
The call was made on the occasion of one year since Mr. Byalyatski was sentenced to prison on what many described as a politically motivated charge.
In its statement, the Observatory said that since his conviction the Belarusian activist "has been subjected to numerous arbitrary disciplinary sanctions by the facility’s administration including reduction in his monthly allowance and suppression of visits and care packages." "Meanwhile other detainees have been forbidden to communicate with Mr. Bialiatski [Byalyatski], thereby increasing the level of isolation and psychological pressure put on him," the statement said.
The Observatory said that the case against Mr. Byalyatski "targeted his human rights’ activities," as well as the operation of the Vyasna human rights group led by the activist. The organization said that it "firmly denounces the ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention" of Mr. Byalyatski and the eviction of Vyasna from its office. "It is clear that these developments represent one step further in the relentless campaign of slandering and harassment," the statement said.
The Observatory urged the Belarusian authorities "to put an end to the ongoing repressive climate targeting human rights defenders and organisations in the country, in line with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments, all ratified by Belarus."
Mr. Byalyatski, who is also vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, was arrested in Minsk on August 4, 2011. On November 24, he 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.
The 50-year-old Byalyatski is serving his prison term in Correctional Institution No. 2 in Babruysk, Mahilyow region.