Political sentencing in Belarus convicts a Nobel Prize for Peace
Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country has a long and complex history, marked by periods of foreign rule, including Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian, as well as occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. Since gaining independence, Belarus has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Lukashenko has been accused of human rights abuses, suppression of opposition, and rigged elections. In August 2020, Lukashenko faced a significant challenge to his rule when he claimed a landslide victory in a presidential election that was widely considered rigged. The opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, disputed the result, and large protests erupted nationwide. The protests were met with a violent crackdown by the government. Thousands of people were arrested, with reports of torture and other abuses in detention. The international community, including the European Union and the United States, has condemned the actions of the Belarusian government and imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and his associates.
Ales Bialiatski is a prominent Belarusian human rights activist and the founder of the human rights organization Viasna (Spring). He was born in 1962 in Grodno in the Soviet Union. Bialiatski continued his activism throughout the 2000s, documenting human rights abuses in Belarus and advocating for the release of political prisoners. He also worked to raise awareness of the situation in Belarus internationally, meeting with European Union officials and participating in international human rights conferences. In 2011 he was arrested by the Belarusian government and charged with tax evasion. The charges were widely believed to be politically motivated. During his imprisonment, Bialiatski continued to be a vocal advocate for human rights. He was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2013. He was released in 2014 following a presidential pardon. Since his release, Bialiatski has continued to work as an activist and human rights defender in Belarus. In 2021 he was arrested again as he was among the individuals and organizations targeted by a government crackdown on civil society and the opposition following disputed presidential elections. In 2022 he was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize. Although his international figure is widely recognized worldwide, on Friday, March 2, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. Shortly after, on March 6, the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who lives in exile, was sentenced to 15 years.
The reactions to the news were quick. A series of mass protests followed met with thousands of arrests, cases of torture, the death of several demonstrators, harsh sentences and forced exile. Tikhanovskaya vowed to continue her struggle and political activities. She labelled the trials a "farce". "Today I don't think about my sentence. I am thinking of thousands of innocents, detained and those sentenced to real prison terms," she said on Twitter. "I will not stop until each of them is released." The EU is following these recent events very closely, condemning Lukashenko's regime and supporting the civil society of Belarus. In general, the international relationship between Belarus and the Western countries is gradually deteriorating on all fronts. The West has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Minsk for its ongoing crackdown after the 2020 elections. However, the regime still enjoys unwavering support from Moscow. Belarus agreed to serve as a staging ground for Russian troops to attack Ukraine in February 2022; however, the Belarusian army has taken no direct part in the fighting yet.
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