Ales Bialiatski is the head and the founder of the Viasna Human Rights Center. Ales is a political prisoner. Since July 14, 2021, he has been behind bars, with other human rights defenders of Viasna, for their peaceful human rights activities and helping the repressed Belarusians. He has devoted his whole life to the protection and promotion of human rights in Belarus. In 2022, he became a laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, together with the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties and the Russian Memorial human rights group. This page describes the complex but consistent struggle of the Belarusian human rights defender for democratic values, from the student movement to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ales Bialiatski was born on September 25, 1962, in the town of Värtsilä, Sortavala district of Karelia — his parents moved there from Belarus to work. Two years later, the family returned to Belarus and settled in Svetlahorsk, Gomel region.
“In those years, I became keen on reading, and I still am. Meanwhile, no one taught me to read. I learned everything myself. At the age of five, I would take the ABC-book and ask my older brother, “What kind of letter is this and what is that?” Then I started reading, and our parents were surprised. Until the fifth grade, I loved to fight, knew no fear and did it successfully, because no one expected a left-hander’s blow. Later I became so fond of books that I started spending more time at home.”
In 1979, Ales Bialiatski entered the history and philology faculty of the Gomel State University, where he began his literary and social activities.
«It was there that we began to think about the issues of the Belarusian language, history, and culture. In general, the fate of Belarus. We began to analyze what state we are in and what the developments might be. It was then that I began to worry about the issues of the Belarusian national distinctiveness, ‘Belarushchyna’.
In 1981, I spent the money earned in a student summer construction team to explore the historical places of Belarus. There were many impressions on the trip. The main one was that the Belarusian language is alive! In contrast to the present time, it was really spoken in villages and towns, almost everywhere.
During that trip, I was lucky enough to visit Mikalaeushchyna, which, as you know, was the home village of Yakub Kolas. It was right about Uncle Yakub’s 100th anniversary, so some artists were working there. Mikola Kupava was the most active one of them. I was impressed by their Belarusian language, and this became the reason for the acquaintance. Mikola asked me, “What’s your name?” I answered, “Sasha”. And Kupava said, “No, your name is not Sasha, it’s Ales”. Thus, at the age of 19, I became Ales. I have been speaking exclusively Belarusian ever since, and I decided then that everything related to that would be the main thing for me for the rest of my life. In fact, that has turned out so.”
Ales recalled that other students willingly spoke Belarusian to them, still they remained bilingual, while Bialiatski used exclusively Belarusian, even at the lectures on Russian literature.
«We became Belarusian definitively and irreversibly. I had an unbridled desire to influence other people, popularize the Belarusian language, and raise the national consciousness. The contacts I established with the conscious Belarusian-speaking students in Minsk, Vintsuk Viachorka and others, encouraged me to naturally promote and follow that path of enlightenment and revival.
It seemed to me then that we, as active atoms, pushing and colliding with other people and giving them our positive Belarusian impulse, would inevitably cause a chain reaction that would lead to the formation of a strong Belarusian conscious intelligentsia, which, in turn, would raise awareness among the broad masses of ordinary people… It was worth spending my life on that”, Bialatski recalled about that period in his book Fight with Oneself, the text of which he mostly wrote during his imprisonment in the Babruisk colony.
In 1981, together with his friends, he founded the Baski (The Basks) student rock band. The Belarusian-centric rock band included three guitars, drums, and a solo voice. Their main hit was a hooligan song with a convincing text, “That’s the only way! Stick to your direction! That’s the only way! This is our salvation! That’s the only way!”.
In 1984, Ales received his diploma as a teacher of philology. Before going to the graduate school of the Literature Institute of the BSSR Sciences Academy, he worked as a teacher in the Lelchytsy district of the Gomel region.
After the compulsory military service, Ales continued his studies in the graduate school and in parallel engaged in scientific, literary, and social activities. In 1986, Bialiatski became one of the founders of the Tuteishyia (The Locals) Young Writers Society. Later he was elected the chairman of the organization.
“All our activities were divided into two parts. The underground part: no more than a dozen like-minded people decided on the strategic areas of activity and on the most effective ways to achieve our goal. They published their works in the Burachok journal.
The second part was legal. That was about the work of the so-called “informal” organizations that united youth by interests. We created one of them, the Tuteishyia Young Writers Society, together with Anatol Sys.
There was a breakpoint of the era then. The former reputative figures fell down, while unreasonably forgotten writers were published, and people began talking about forbidden topics.
On one and the same day, on October 19, 1988, Bialiatski became a co-founder of the first human rights organization Martyrology of Belarus and a member of the Organizational Committee of the Adradzhenne Belarusian National Front. At that time, he was 27 years old.
Just a couple of weeks later, on October 30, 1988, the legendary Dziady march took place in Minsk. It was the first mass action in Belarus, and Bialiatski had filed an application with the authorities to hold it. He was detained as the march organizer and fined 200 Soviet rubles.
“We decided to hold the rally, although the authorities repeatedly urged the public not to take part in it. They even tried to intimidate people. That provoked the opposite reaction. To our surprise, thousands of people came to Dziady-1988.
The authorities had been preparing to disperse and dismiss the rally. Later, I got access to a document with instructions on what they had been going to do. One group was to neutralize the leaders, the other group was to capture the sound equipment, etc. They acted according to that scenario. I was arrested immediately. It must be said it was very unexpected for them that the rally gained broad public attention. The society was outraged, and people began to think about what was happening around and what should be done. Considering that the Organizational Committee of the Belarusian National Front was created just a month before, that event brought thousands of supporters to the new movement. Democratic changes in Belarus happened very rapidly. No one could have foreseen that. The youthful dream about the country’s independence became a reality”.
In the spring of 1989, Bialiatsky graduated from the Literature Institute of the BSSR Sciences Academy, but refused to defend his science candidate’s thesis. In 1991, he published his first book ”Literature and Nation” based on that thesis.
In 1989, Ales started working at the Museum of the History of the Belarusian Literature as a junior researcher. Later, he was elected the director of the Maksim Bahdanovich Literary Museum. He worked in that position until August 1998.
“There was a wave of elections in the Soviet Union (from the very top), the heads of various enterprises and institutions were elected. Soon, such an election was announced in the nearby museum of Maksim Bahdanovich.
I was working as a junior researcher and decided to take part in it. There were four candidates, but everyone voted for me. That was what the museum collective decided. It must be noted that that caused a misunderstanding in the Ministry of Culture, to put it mildly. They knew my previous biography well there. There was no approval for a month, and then the Minister of Culture Yauhen Vaitovich gave up, “Appoint him”.”
Under the leadership of Ales Bialiatski, the preparation of the Belarusian Khatka (Belarusian Village House) exhibition and the exposition of the central Maksim Bahdanovich Literary Museum in Minsk was completed. He actively participated in the events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Bahdanovich, which were held in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. Ales initiated publishing archival collections dedicated to the publication of materials related to the life of Bahdanovich, his relatives and acquaintances, and the publication of the memoirs of the poet’s father, Adam Bahdanovich.
“While working at the museum, I did not particularly hold on to the directorship. I considered the museum as a national platform, and not just a repository of dead things. Therefore, for more than a year, the museum located both the Svaboda and Nasha Niva media, hosted meetings of the Belarusian National Front’s Board and Council, celebrations of the Uniate Church Christmas, gatherings of the Belarusian Catholic community. Dozens of non-governmental organizations were registered there. In a word, the museum was filled with contemporary Belarusian life.”
In 2021, in the pre-trial detention center, Ales Bialatski started writing his memoirs about the Maksim Bahdanovich Museum.
On December 8, 2021, behind bars, Ales also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening of the museum exposition.
“They have just celebrated the 130th anniversary of Maksim Bahdanovich. Throughout this November and December, I recalled how 30 years ago we opened the museum of Maksim Bahdanovich in Trayetskaye pradmestse (Trinity Hill). Throughout the two years before the opening, my colleagues and I worked tirelessly. What a pleasure and joy it was when the museum opened its doors to visitors. The state Belarusian TV channel showed a short story about the museum — it was nice to watch. As they say, “There were times, there was an era”. 30 years is an incredible number. That’s how life passes,” Ales wrote in his letters about that important date.
In 1991, Ales Bialiatski was nominated as a candidate for People’s Deputies by the collective of the Maksim Bahdanovich Museum and the Spadchyna (The Heritage) journal.
Ales was a deputy at the Minsk City Council of Deputies in 1991-1996.
In 1996, the authorities brutally dispersed thousands of participants in the Chernobyl March and detained more than 200 people. Then social activists united to help the detainees and their families. Thus, the Viasna-96 human rights initiative was born, which was later reformed into the Viasna Human Rights Center, with its branches in several cities of Belarus. Its founder, Ales Bialiatski, remains the chairman of the organization to this day.
“For the first two years, I worked at Viasna in parallel with my work at the museum. Then I had to leave the museum, and my literature and museum biographies completely turned into a human rights defender’s one.
To be honest, when the organization was created, I did not think that it would last that long. I thought that in 2-3 (maximum 5) years there would be no need for it at all, and we would return to our usual work — museological, literary, scientific, political. Unfortunately, I was wrong,” Ales Bialiatski recalled.
Meanwhile, after observing the presidential elections in 2001, the pressure on human rights defenders increased. In 2003, the Supreme Court deprived Viasna of its state registration – in fact, it meant liquidation of the organization.
In 2007, the UN Human Rights Committee recognized the liquidation of the Viasna Human Rights Center as a violation of the freedom of association of the organization members, and recommended the reinstatement of Ales Bialiatski and his colleagues.
Read the full decision of the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the liquidation of the Viasna human rights center
In 2007, and then twice in 2009, Viasna made unsuccessful attempts to obtain official registration from the Ministry of Justice. Then the human rights defenders announced that they would continue their peaceful human rights activities without the registration.
In 2007, Ales Bialiatski was elected the vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
Throughout the existence of Viasna, the authorities more than once put pressure on human rights defenders for their activities in defense of rights and their help to people. Ales always actively supported the repressed Belarusians, for which he was detained under criminal charges. On August 4, 2011, Ales Bialiatski was arrested on charges of ‘concealing profits in a particularly large amount’ (Part 2, Article 243 of the Criminal Code). The Ministry of Justice of Lithuania and the Prosecutor General’s Office of Poland disclosed information about the human rights defender’s accounts in foreign banks to the Belarusian authorities. These accounts accumulated financial aid for victims repressed by the Belarusian authorities.
On November 24, 2011, the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk sentenced Ales Bialiatski to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a high security colony, with confiscation of his property. Ales did not admit his guilt, saying that all the money from the accounts had been spent on human rights activities and helping people.
“I have been engaged in human rights activities, and public activities in general, for almost all my life. This year marks 30 years since I was first engaged in public activities. The years from 1991 to 1995 were the period when I felt more or less calm and free. In such a bad situation, which has been developing in the country for all the last years, criminal prosecution could naturally be expected any minute, any year — and it happened. Therefore, I do not regret any of my steps taken over these 30 years in terms of the protection of democracy and human rights in Belarus. I was doing that consciously,” said the human rights defender in his last words in court.
The European Union and the USA, major international human rights organizations, and leaders of the Belarusian opposition political parties condemned the apparently politically motivated decision. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus negatively assessed the reaction of the Western countries to the verdict. Bialiatski was sent to the Babruisk colony #2 to serve his term.
On November 23, 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published their decision stating that the imprisonment of Ales Bialiatski contradicted Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the right to freedom of association).
Decision of UNHRC on Ales Bialiatski’s case
On June 21, 2014, Ales Bialiatski was granted amnesty. He had spent 1052 days in prison. Ales returned to human rights activities and his duties as the Viasna chairman, despite the fact that he was still threatened with persecution in Belarus.
In total, Ales Bialiatski published about ten books, many of the materials for which he wrote during his imprisonment. In his books, he reflects on the events of his personal and social life, the people around him, his travels, the history and literature of Belarus, and his condition in prison. In 2016, the human rights defender wrote the book “Fight with Oneself” — a creative portrait of the poet Eduard Akulin. The first three chapters of this book were written in the Babruisk colony. He also published the essay “If God is with us, then who is against us?” about the trip to Krakow on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Polish trade union Solidarność.
Ales Bialiatski’s books (four of them written behind bars):
Ales Bialiatski was awarded with literary prizes: the Norwegian Authors Union Freedom of Expression Prize (2011), and the Frantsishak Aliakhnovich Prize for the book Mercurial Silver of Life. Prologue: Notes of Human Rights Defender (2014).
In 2020, the largest mass protests in history took place in Belarus — people protested against the falsification of the results of the presidential elections. Viasna observed the elections as part of their campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, and helped victims of repression. The reaction of the authorities to the unwanted human rights activities was quite expected.
On February 16, 2021, the first major attack on representatives of NGOs took place throughout Belarus, including human rights defenders of Viasna. In the early morning, law enforcement officers searched the Minsk office of Viasna at 78A Nezalezhnasti Ave., in the presence of Ales Bialiatsky.Besides, searches took place in the regional branches of Viasna in Mahiliou, Rechitsa, Mazyr, and Brest.
The Investigation Committee commented then on the massive attack on civil society activists, “As part of the preliminary investigation, in order to establish the circumstances of the financing of protest activities, the investigation initiated searches at the organizations that position themselves as human rights defenders”.
Many human rights defenders and activists had their office equipment items confiscated, and they have not been returned to this day. Later, the investigators began to summon members and volunteers of the organization for questioning on “the facts of funding of actions that grossly violate public order”. The state claimed that the assistance provided by Ales and human rights defenders of Viasna to the victims of the authorities’ actions encouraged people to participate in the protests.
The Human Rights Center Viasna issued a statement regarding the initiated criminal case:
“In the current situation of acute human rights crisis, the activities of the Human Rights Center Viasna are aimed at helping victims of political repression and pervasive human rights violations. To this end, we actively cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, including within international organizations, the OSCE and the United Nations among others.
We consider the criminal prosecution of the Human Rights Center Viasna as another act of repression in connection with our human rights activities. The persecution is orchestrated by the current authoritarian political regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka against the background of unprecedented nationwide repression.”
On April 7, 2021, the Investigative Committee summoned Ales Bialiatski as a witness for questioning on the Viasna case for the first time. However, the interrogation failed to take place, since the human rights defender demanded questioning and recording in Belarusian. As a result, the interrogation was postponed to another day.
“Some of the commentators regarded the postponement of the interrogation as a victory, saying that Bialiatsky had taught a lesson to the Investigative Committee. In fact, I do not view this as a victory at all. I did not set that as my goal. Joking with the Investigative Committee today is the same as teasing a viper.
But I won in another way — I defended my right to remain myself in this nervous and chaotic situation. The unusual situation for the Investigative Committee was a common thing for me. The Belarusian language for me is not exotic and not an entourage. The situation itself emphasized once again the poor state of the Belarusian language today,” he wrote in his blog.
The next interrogation lasted four hours and was conducted entirely in Belarusian.
In the film by Radio Svaboda (RFE/RL Belarus), Ales answered the journalists’ question about what Belarusians should do if human rights defenders are suddenly imprisoned:
“What struck me and what brought me great satisfaction was what we saw after information about tortures reached the Belarusian society. And the Belarusian society, these hundreds of thousands of demonstrations, demanded everything that Belarusian human rights defenders have always demanded. Fair elections, punishment of those who committed crimes, release of all political prisoners — this is our mission, these are our strategic slogans, this is what we have always strived for. It is very important to understand that, in our situation, our rights can only be protected by the entire Belarusian society, not individual human rights defenders or journalists.
Indeed, we can be severely repressed, we can be buried in prisons, expelled from the country, but in this situation only millions of Belarusians can protect their rights. Therefore, it is very important that this desire and persistent demand for the fulfillment of the rights that concern every citizen, this request and pressure come from the entire Belarusian society.”
Another crackdown on civil society took place on July 14, 2021 – that day was referred to as “the black Wednesday”. Eleven members of Viasna were detained then. Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Uladzimir Labkovich were left in custody and transferred to the Pre-trial Detention Center #1 in Minsk, known as ‘Valadarka’.
The details of the arrest of the Viasna chairman are still unknown, as he was alone at that time. On the morning of July 14, he simply stopped responding to his colleagues, which is very unlike him. Only at 6:00 p.m. the Viasna members learned that Ales had been arrested under criminal charges. It is known that his house was searched, but the law enforcement officers did not even leave a relevant order. The office of Viasna in Minsk on Miarzhynskaha Street, where Bialiatski’s workplace was, is sealed.
The investigation of the criminal case against the Viasna members is being conducted as secretly as possible. For a long time, the colleagues and relatives of Ales did not even know what criminal article he was accused of.
On October 6, 2021, it became known, from the court schedule of the trial of Ales Bialiatski’s complaint against the extension of his detention term, that the human rights defender was charged under Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Criminal Code (‘tax evasion’). The court left his appeal without satisfaction, as well as all the subsequent complaints.
The main claim of the state against the human rights defenders is that they did not register the Human Rights Center Viasna. Based on that, the authorities concluded that they evaded recognizing the organization as a tax agent and fulfilling its duties.
On September 26, 2022, it became known that the criminal case against Ales Bialiatski and other human rights defenders of Viasna under Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Criminal Code (‘tax evasion’) was terminated. Meanwhile, the three human rights defenders were not released from custody — they were charged with smuggling (‘illegal movement of a large amount of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union by an organized group’) under Part 4 of Art. 228 of the Criminal Code, and ‘financing of group actions that grossly violate public order’ under Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code. It is known that the claims of the state refer to the same amount of money that appeared in the charges of tax evasion. These three political prisoners, including Ales Bialiatski, now face from 7 to 12 years in prison.
On November 28, it became known that the Prosecutor General’s Office sent the Viasna case to the court. The trial date has not yet been set.
Relatives and colleagues have almost no information about the case progress and investigative actions involving Ales Bialiatski, as the lawyers are under a non-disclosure agreement. They rarely receive letters from him.
“There is little news, as the days flow monotonously, from morning roll call to evening roll call, from rouse to lights out, from breakfast to dinner, from dinner to supper. As if nothing happens, but it is impossible to describe everything. In general, I have the same feeling as in the title of Alexandre Dumas’ “Ten Years Later” novel,” — Ales Bialiatski wrote in November 2021.
Behind bars, the health condition of Ales has deteriorated — a typical and frequent problem among the Belarusian political prisoners. In the sixth month of his imprisonment, his wife said that his handwriting had changed. Once she even thought that a letter was not from her husband. She explains this by the fact that his eyesight has deteriorated.
“This is caused by the circumstances and conditions, and all the difficulties that Ales is facing now,” she said.
As human rights defenders learned at the end of August 2021, Ales Bialiatski was placed in the so-called “special corridor” in the Pre-trial Detention Center #1 — a semi-basement room with poor conditions.
The arrest of Ales Bialiatski and the repression against the Viasna human rights defenders caused a great wave of indignation both inside the country and abroad.
The day after the detention, human rights organizations of Belarus issued a statement recognising the detained members of Viasna Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich as political prisoners.
Soon, 161 human rights organizations from all over the world demanded an end to the repression against the Viasna Human Rights Center, and the release of human rights defenders and volunteers.
The Vice-President of the European Parliament Nicola Beer joined Libereco’s solidarity campaign #WeStandBYyou in support of the chairman of Viasna Ales Bialiatski.
“I am honored to take on, again, responsibility. Responsibility as a godparent for one of the hundreds of political prisoners in Belarus. Ales Bialiatski is an honored man. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times for protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms with non-violent activities. For doing this, he is now in pre-trial detention and faces trumped-up charges. […]
I am wholeheartedly supporting the release of Ales Bialiatski, because I know what an outstanding service you render to the Belarusian society. […] I demand here and now from Mr. Lukashenka and the Belarusian authorities to stop the criminal prosecution, to stop the repression and immediately release all political prisoners, amongst them Ales Bialiatski».
On September 17, 2021, the international campaign #FreeViasna was launched for the release of the Viasna human rights defenders. Hundreds of activists and sympathizing citizens took part in support actions in many cities of different countries and expressed solidarity with the human rights defenders.
On November 24, 2021, in her speech in the European Parliament, the leader of the democratic forces of Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya , mentioned the chairman of Viasna, Ales Bialiatski. One year later, in her speech in the European Parliament, she mentioned Ales Bialiatski again and said that the human rights defender learned about his Nobel Prize in a prison cell. And two years ago, he was awarded the Sakharov Prize in the European Parliament.
“In every speech, in every statement, he repeated: “Do not forget about Belarus. Do not forget about our political prisoners.” Since then, the number of political prisoners in Belarus has increased tenfold. Now, 1,350 political prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions, and this number is growing every day. Ales is one of them.”
On November 27, 2021, PEN International called for the release of human rights defender and writer Ales Bialiatski.
On August 4, 2022, human rights defenders renewed the Day of Solidarity with the civil society of Belarus — on that day11 years ago, the head and founder of Viasna Ales Bialiatski was arrested. The Viasna activists held a solidarity rally near the Embassy of Belarus in Vilnius, Lithuania. The venue and date were not chosen by chance: in 2013, the first action of this kind was held near the Belarusian embassy in Vilnius to express solidarity with the imprisoned chairman of Viasna Ales Bialiatski. The action participants were wearing masks with his portrait then. Now, when Ales Bialiatski is behind bars again, his colleagues again come out to protest.
Ales Bialiatski’s courageous, consistent, and principled position in defense of human rights in Belarus and throughout the world was rewarded by many international 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, Ales 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. Ales was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.
Ales Bialiatski became an honorary citizen of three cities — Paris (France) and Genoa and Syracuse (Italy).
In 2020, the chairman of Viasna Ales Bialiatski and his organization became the first Belarusian laureates of the prestigious international Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. Ales Bialiatski and Viasna received the award for their role in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Belarus.
In 2020, the laureates of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought included the democratic opposition of Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, the brave Belarusian women, and politicians and civil society figures — ten famous people, including Ales Bialiatski.
“The presentation of the prize of the European Parliament to the broad Belarusian democratic opposition is a recognition of the merits of the entire Belarusian people, who are desperately fighting today for democratic changes in Belarus.
I regard the fact that my name is on the list of the laureates as a gesture of support for our civil society, Belarusian human rights defenders, and my friends from the Viasna Human Rights Center,” — Ales Bialiatski said about the award.
In the autumn of 2022, the Human Rights Center Viasna received the Albie Awards 2022, founded by the Clooney Foundation for Justice, in the nomination Justice for Democracy Advocates.
“The human rights group has been the voice of resistance in Belarus for nearly 30 years as it has led a brave campaign for freedom and democracy against president Lukashenka’s regime. In the run-up to and following the fraudulent 2020 presidential elections, the group has paid a high price for the work; seven Viasna members have been detained on trumped-up charges and both of the organization’s leaders are in jail,” the organizers said.
“These are people that willingly go to prison because they believe so strongly in the fight for independence, in the fight for democracy. They are real heroes,” George Clooney said on CBS before the award ceremony.
In 2022, the Nobel Peace Prize laureates are the chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna Ales Bialiatski, the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, and the Russian Memorial human rights group. The Nobel Committee informed about that on October 7, 2022.
This year, Ales Bialiatski was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the sixth time. He became the third person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison or in custody.
“The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries,” the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. “They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power.”
The Committee noted that Ales Bialiatski was one of the initiators of the democracy movement that emerged in Belarus in the mid-1980s. He has devoted his life to promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country.
“Government authorities have repeatedly sought to silence Ales Bialiatski,” the Nobel Committee emphasizes. “Since 2020, he is still detained without trial. Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.”
It is known that Ales quickly learned about the award, but his reaction regarding the decision of the Nobel Committee is still unknown.
On October 10, 2022, the UN experts called for the immediate release of the Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski and other human rights defenders in Belarus.
“There is a serious accountability gap for gross violations of human rights law in Belarus, and we welcome the solidarity of the international community and all efforts based on international law to persist in seeking justice,” the experts said.
Many well-known figures spoke about the award to the Belarusian human rights defender.For example, the American President Joe Biden said:
“This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners remind us that, even in dark days of war, in the face of intimidation and oppression, the common human desire for rights and dignity cannot be extinguished. <…>
For years, they have tirelessly fought for human rights and fundamental freedoms—including the right to speak freely and criticize openly. They have pursued their mission with passion and persistence. <…> Ales Bialiatski has never backed down from demanding the democratic freedoms the Belarusian people deserve, even while imprisoned. <…>
Above all, the brave souls who do this work have pursued the truth and documented for the world the political repression of their fellow citizens—speaking out, standing up, and staying the course while being threatened by those who seek their silence. In doing so, they have made our world stronger.’
The Nobel Peace Prize for Ales supported not only the laureate, human rights defenders, and Belarusians, but also other political prisoners. The TUY.BY editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava wrote about it from behind bars:
“For these one and a half years, I have had a variety of feelings inside me — both negative and positive. Among the latest positive ones was the news that Ales Bialiatski received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Every news comes very late here, but interestingly, a few minutes before I learned about it, I was walking down the prison corridor with him. And he, a modest one, did not say anything.
Just imagine what it looks like: a Nobel Peace Prize winner sitting a few cells away from you. I think this Nobel Prize for Bialiatski motivates and inspires all the political prisoners. At least this is definitely so here, in the Valadarka pre-trial detention center.”
The first Belarusian to win the Nobel Prize, Sviatlana Aleksievich, also commented on the human rights defender’s award:
“I consider Bialiatski a mythological figure of the Belarusian struggle. To say that he deserves it is not enough. This has been his prize for a long time already.
What Viasna created by him has done and is doing in these conditions is in line with his spirit, his philosophy. I am very glad.We all need to talk about the fact that he needs to be free, with his people. It’s hard to imagine what the government will do to him, but such a person cannot be in prison — it’s a humiliation for both the people and the government, if they understand this,” she emphasized.
Since the end of July 2021, Ales Bialiatski has been held in custody, in the ‘Valadarka’ pre-trial detention center. You can support the Nobel laureate by the address Pre-trial detention center #1, 220030, Minsk, Valadarskaha 2, Aliaksandr Viktaravich Bialiatski
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