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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sarah Shaffi

Nobel winners demand release of Belarusian peace laureate Ales Bialiatski

Ales Bialiatski.
Ales Bialiatski has been sentenced to 10 year in prison. Photograph: Sergei Grits/AP

More than 100 Nobel laureates, including Kazuo Ishiguro, Olga Tokarczuk and JM Coetzee, have called for the release of Nobel peace prize winner Ales Bialiatski and said they “stand with the fearless people of Belarus who continue to fight for their human rights”.

Bialiatski founded an organisation called Viasna (Spring) to provide support for demonstrators who were jailed after protesting against dictatorial powers granted to Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko following a constitutional amendment in 1996.

After its founding, Viasna evolved into a human rights organisation that documents the authorities’ abuses against and torture of political prisoners.

Bialiatski’s work has seen him targeted by the authorities: he was jailed in 2011 for alleged tax evasion by the government, and released in 2014. But in 2021, the year after an election led to protests against Lukashenko’s dictatorship, Bialiatski was again jailed, this time without trial or conviction.

The Nobel peace prize was conferred on him in 2022, during his detention. Since then, he has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Now, 103 Nobel Laureates have signed an open letter from Pen International expressing solidarity with Bialiatski and condemning the actions of the Belarusian president.

The letter, also signed by authors including Svetlana Alexievich, Mario Vargas Llosa and Annie Ernaux, says that Bialiatski “has devoted his life to the promotion of democracy and human rights in Belarus.

“He has dared to hold President Lukashenko accountable for his brutal, relentless and systematic crackdown on independent voices,” continued the letter. “For this, he is paying the heaviest price: 10 years in prison on spurious grounds.

“Bialiatski is a symbol of hope and an inspiration to human rights defenders around the world, who should be celebrated as such.”

The signatories say they stand with Bialiatski and the fellow members of Viasna – Marfa Rabkova, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Andrei Chapiuk – who have also been imprisoned.

“We stand with the multitude of writers, journalists, cultural workers, human rights defenders and citizens of Belarus who are serving lengthy prison terms merely for peacefully expressing their views and speaking truth to power,” the letter said. “We stand with the fearless people of Belarus who continue to fight for their human rights.”

Bialiatski won the Nobel peace prize jointly with the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties. The citation for the prize said they demonstrated “the significance of civil society for peace and democracy”.

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