Imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski has been awarded the first ever Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. The prize,, worth €60,000, honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights. Bialiatski, the founder of Viasna Human Rights Centre in Minsk, is currently serving a four and a half year sentence in Belarus after being found guilty of tax evasion–a charged based on the alleged use of personal accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for human rights activism in Belarus. His imprisonment has been widely decried, with many accusing the Belarusian regime of falsely accusing and incarcerating the human rights defender for purely political purposes. Many still fight for his release…
The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize was established in 2013 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Considering his current imprisonment, Mr. Bialiatski’s award was received by his wife, Natalia Pinchuk, in a special ceremony on 30 September, at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg, on the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Parliamentary Assembly President Jean-Claude Mignon, also chair of the award selection panel said:
“In his daily struggle against violations of human rights, injustice, arbitrariness and authoritarianism, Ales Bialiatski has worked ceaselessly so that the citizens of Belarus may one day aspire to our European standards.”
In her speech upon accepting the award, Bialiatski’s wife paid homage to her husband, explaining:
“This [prize] is an appreciation of the many years of his rights activism, his principled position, heroism, his openly standing up for human rights and freedom of his people, as well as of his love of Belarus.”
“The fight against human rights violations, support of, and assistance for those who became victims in the struggle for democratic views are the inspiration behind the activities of the rights organization Vyasna he established in 1996. The degree, to which the activities of this organization had been hindering the authorities from lawlessness, can be judged by the ban on Vyasna’s activities and multiple arrests of Ales; the last one, alas, being his long-term imprisonment that has been ongoing for over two years now.”
Bialiatski, Chairman of the Human Rights Centre Viasna and Vice- President of the International Federation on Human Rights since 2007, celebrated his 51st birthday in prison last month–again drawing attention to his plight, and renewing efforts by the international community to obtain his release.
Meanwhile, fresh attempts to defame the activist within Belarus have also surged, as last week the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) broke the news of the confiscation of 40 copies of Bialiatski’s book “Enlightened by Belarusianness” (“Asvechanyia Belaruschunai”). The book was dubbed “potentially damaging the image of the country”.
The 455-page book is a compendium of literary articles and essays on Belarusian literature, and also features four texts written by Mr. Bialiatski since his imprisonment.
The OMCT urged action by the international community–including demanding the Belarusian government reversing the confiscation.
The most famous Belarusian human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski, has been awarded the 2013 Vaclav… http://t.co/t7CFDzWap9
— CivilRightsDefenders (@crdefenders) October 2, 2013
— fidh (@fidh_en) September 30, 2013
Sakharov Prize to be awarded on 10 October
— Belarus Freedom News (@Belarus_2011) October 1, 2013
Ales Bialatski, Eduard Lobau and Mykola Statkevich are among the shortlisted candidates for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, annually awarded by the European Parliament. According to Marek Migalski (ECR, PL), Filip Kaczmarek (EPP, PL), Jacek Protasiewicz (EPP, PL) and 39 other MEPs who nominated the these three human rights defenders and activists, their names represent all prisoners of conscience in Belarus.
For political prisoners in Eastern Partnership counterpart, Azerbaijan, the plight is no less dire. The Baku-based Human Rights Club has released an updated list of the 142 people currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan for political reasons. The prisoners include journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, civic and political activists, and religious followers, many arrested in connection with exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. The release of the report emerges just eight days ahead of Azerbaijan’s 9th October presidential election. Click here for the he full list.