Ales Bialiatski

chairperson of Viasna, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, sentenced to 10 years in prison

Date of birth: 25 September 1962

Date of detention: 14 July 2021

Charges indicted:

Art. 228 of the Criminal Code — Contraband
Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code — Financing of group actions that grossly violate public order

Sentence: 10 years

Penalty: imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony

Prison sentence start date: 21 April 2023

Judge: Maryna Zapasnik

Prosecutor: Aliaksandr Karol

Prison: Penal colony No. 9

Godparent: Nicola Beer, the Vice-President of the European Parliament

Ales Bialiatski is the chairman and founder of the Viasna Human Rights Center, the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a former vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (2007-2016).

Over the 25 years of his activity, Ales Bialiatski was been awarded numerous prizes and awards. In 2006, he received the Swedish Per Anger Prize, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the Homo Homini Award, which was presented to him by Vaclav Havel. In 2011, Bialiatski was presented with the diploma For Courage and Struggle for Freedom, and the Best Human Rights Defender of the Year award. In 2012, he received the US State Department Award, the Lech Walesa Award, the Petra Kelly Prize in recognition of his activities in the defense of human rights in Belarus. In 2013, he was given the Vaclav Havel Award from the PACE, and in 2019 it was the award For Human Rights and Rule of Law. In 2020, Ales Bialiatski became a laureate of the Right Livelihood Award and the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Prize. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times. He is the author of several books.

The chairman of Viasna Ales Bialiatski was detained on July 14, 2021, as a defendant in a criminal case. His home and the office of his organization were searched.

On October 6, 2021, the Minsk City Court heard Ales Bialiatski’s appeal against the extension of his pre-trial detention. Judge Yauhen Khatkevich turned down the complaint. The court session revealed that Ales Bialiatski was charged with only one article of the Criminal Code - Part 2 of Art. 243 ('Tax evasion'), which provides for imprisonment for up to 7 years. Earlier, the authorities said that, in addition to Art. 243, the human rights defender was charged under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code ('Organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order, or active participation in them').

On January 28, 2022, the Partyzanski District Court of Minsk considered another appeal against the extension of Ales Bialiatski's pre-trial detention. The hearing was held behind closed doors. Judge Natallia Dziadkova dismissed the complaint.

On September 26, 2022, it became known that the criminal charges of ‘tax evasion’ under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code against Valiantsin Stefanovich, Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, and other Viasna members were dropped. However, Bialiatski, Labkovich, and Stefanovich were not released from custody as they were charged with ‘smuggling’ by "having illegally been moving cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union in large amounts by an organized group” under Part 4 of Article 228, and with ‘financing of group activities, grossly breaching public order’ under Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code. It is known that the state's claims refer to the same amount of money, which appeared in the charges of tax evasion. The three political prisoners faced from 7 to 12 years in prison.

Ales Bialiatski became the laureate of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

On November 28, 2022, the General Prosecutor's Office sent the Viasna case to the court. The trial began on January 5, 2023 in the Lieninski District Court of Minsk. The case was considered by Judge Maryna Zapasnik, with Aliaksandr Karol as the prosecutor. Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Uladzimir Labkovich did not plead guilty to any of the criminal charges.

On March 3, 2023, in the Lieninski District Court of Minsk, Judge Marina Zapasnik sentenced:

  • Ales Bialiatski, the chairman of Viasna and Nobel laureate, to 10 years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony
  • Valiantsin Stefanovich, the deputy chairman of Viasna and the vice-president of FIDH, to 9 years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony
  • Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and the coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, to 7 years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony
  • Zmitser Salauyou, a human rights defender of Viasna, to 8 years of imprisonment (in absentia).

The sentence is two years shorter than that requested by the prosecutor Aliaksandr Karol. All of the defendants, except Ales Bialiatski, were also fined BYN 111,000 (approx. USD 38,950). The chairman of Viasna Ales Bialiatski was fined, as requested by the prosecutor, BYN 185,000 (approx. USD 64,912). Besides, it was decided to jointly and severally collect from Bialiatski, Stefanovich, Labkovich, and Salauyou the amount of BYN 752,438 (approx. USD 297,650), which they allegedly "obtained by criminal means" through "smuggling by an organized criminal group". That was the very amount that had appeared in the charge under Part 4 of Art. 228 of the Criminal Code.

The sentence has not yet entered into force, and the human rights defenders can appeal it.

Their colleagues, other human rights defenders, the international community and ordinary Belarusians have reacted harshly to the sentence. The UN issued a statement on this occasion.

Prosecutor Aliaksandr Karol filed an appeal against the sentence: he had demanded two-year longer prison sentences and larger fines, but Judge Maryna Zapasnik passed a different sentence.

On April 21, 2023, in the Minsk City Court, Judge Sviatlana Bandarenka considered the appeals against the verdict filed by the political prisoners and their defenders. She uphold the sentence and dismissed their appeals.

On May 2, 2023, it became known that the human rights defender was transferred from remand prison #1 in Minsk to penal colony #9 in Horki, Mahilioŭ region.

Ales was a political prisoner before. On 4 August 2011, he was arrested after Lithuania and Poland had passed data on bank accounts on their territory to the Belarusian authorities. Bialiatski was accused of serious concealment of proceeds. On 24 November 2011, he was convicted by the Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk to 4.5 years of imprisonment with confiscation of property. He pleaded not guilty, stating that all the money from the accounts was used for human rights activities. Countries of the European Union, the U.S. and international human rights organizations recognized him as a political prisoner and his sentence as politically motivated. He was released on general pardon.

Ales Bialiatski awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2022

Bialiatski was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the sixth time this year. He became the fourth person to receive the prize while in prison or in detention.

“Criminal prosecution of Viasna members is not related to their work,” authorities responded to the UN request

The website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has published the official response of the Belarusian government to the request of four Special Rapporteurs on the search and detention of human rights defenders, NGO representatives, and independent media, which took place in July 2021.

Mail address: Penal colony No. 9. 213410, Horki, vulica Dabraliubava 16

Addresses of prisons:

What should I know and how to help?

✉️ Write a letter. Make a scan of your letter or postcard and share it online

🤝 Please use the Russian (or Belarusian) name of the prison

💡 Foreign-language messages may be blocked, so attach a translation (e.g.

💡 More tips here

Support “Viasna”