Updated at 01:25,03-03-2021

Byalyatski released under amnesty law

Syarhey Karalevich, Naviny.by

Human rights defender Ales Byalyatski said upon his arrival in Minsk on Saturday that he had been released from prison under an amnesty law.

Mr. Byalyatski, 51, arrived in Minsk by train at 3 p.m., hours after he was freed from a correctional institution in Babruysk, Mahilyow region. As he stepped out of the train, he was greeted by a crowd of some 50 people, including relatives, associates and journalists.

The chairman of the Vyasna human rights group said that his release had come as a complete surprise to him. “This morning I went to work as usual. At around 9 a.m. I was told by the administration of the release under the [amnesty] law and taken to the railroad station in an ambulance. I was put on a train there,” he said.

Byalyatski released under amnesty law

The activist said that he had not expected to be released under the amnesty. “I was a ‘persistent violator’ [of prison rules]. It should not have applied to me,” he stressed.

Mr. Byalyatski noted that assistance from activists in Belarus and the international community had proved vital to his release. “I would hardly have been released without your assistance,” he said.

Byalyatski released under amnesty law

Noting that he was in good health, Mr. Byalyatski said that he would continue doing what he had done before his imprisonment. The activist added that he did not know whether any restrictions would be placed on his freedom.

Mr. Byalyatski was arrested in Minsk on August 4, 2011.

On November 24, 2011, 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.

While meeting with Belarusian media leaders on January 21, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that Mr. Byalyatski might be amnestied if all the money he owed had really been paid.

When asked by BelaPAN Director General Ales Lipay why Mr. Byalyatski, whose debt had been paid off with donations a long time before, could not been freed, Mr. Lukashenka said that he was unaware of that and tasked Alyaksandr Radzkow, first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, with finding out whether or not that was true.

“This is a serious argument. This is not about politics and the position of Byalyatski himself. I swear I did not and do not know him,” Mr. Lukashenka said, adding that paying taxes “is a sacred thing.”

Mr. Byalyatski spent a total of 1,050 days behind bars.