On Nov. 24, Ales Byalyatski, head of the Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna (“Spring” in Belarusian), was sentenced in Minsk to four-and-a-half years in an enhanced regime detention camp with additional punishment of property confiscation. He was convicted of tax evasion. Edminas Badgonas, Lithuanian ambassador in Minsk, was present in the court during the three-week trial. Bagdonas demonstrated moral support for Byalyatski.
Earlier this year, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Poland and the Lithuanian Justice Ministry passed on information on the bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania of two Belarusian human rights activists to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime at request of Minsk officials. The information resulted in the detention of Byalyatski. Another Belarusian activist, Valyantsin Stefanovich, can get some punishment, not resulting in imprisonment, because the sum in his accounts was not sufficient for imprisonment (less than 5,000 euros, the limit for imprisonment for tax evasion), according to the laws of Belarus.
These personal accounts were used to get financing for the activities of Viasna. The financing came from foreign human rights organizations and the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands. Lithuanian Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius said that this data transmission to Belarus was just a brainless implementation of the Lithuanian-Belarusian agreement on cooperation in criminal cases, which was frozen by Lithuania after this scandal. “This data cannot be used as proof in court,” Simasius said when the trial of Byalyatski started in Minsk.
The imprisonment of Byalyatski provoked criticism of the Minsk regime throughout the democratic world. “This case must be seen as part of a broader pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Belarus,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said on Nov. 24, adding that he is considering proposing the candidacy of Byalyatski for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Indeed, Byalyatski showed his determination to confront the court in Minsk. Back in June, according to Lithuanian Foreign Vice-Minister Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene, Lithuanian officials informed Byalyatski about the fatal mistake committed by the Lithuanian Justice Ministry and offered him to stay in Lithuania and ask for political asylum. However, Byalyatski decided to return to Minsk.
On Nov. 25, a group of Belarusian and Lithuanian human rights activists demonstrated in front of the Belarusian embassy in Vilnius, protesting against the imprisonment of Byalyatski. They held white-red-white Belarusian flags of the pre-Lukashenko era and one of their posters read, in Lithuanian, “Dictatorship provokes dementia.”
Dictator Lukashenko is not paying too much attention to the Western protests and on Nov. 25 he went to Moscow, where he is not criticized by local officials. During the ceremony, with the participation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a contract for the sale of 50 percent of Belarus’ gas pipelines was signed. Now Russian Gazprom will own 100 percent of the gas pipelines in Belarus. On Nov. 25, Russia also agreed to give financial credits for the construction of the Russian designed nuclear plant in Belarus near the Lithuanian border. Some 80-85 percent of these credits will go to Russian construction companies. All these moves make Belarus more dependent on the Kremlin.