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Statement of the Zagranica Group in response to judgment in Ales Belyatsky’s case

Polish non-governmental organisations express a vigorous protest against the draconian sentence passed on 24 November by a Minsk court on Ales Belyatsky, a distinguished human rights advocate and the head of the Human Rights Centre Vesna, organisation abolished by the Lukashenka’s regime.

In our opinion, the trial of Mr Belyatsky, who was charged with ‘tax evasion’, was utterly political and conducted in contravention of the basic legal standards, including the right to defence and presumption of innocence. The purpose of the sentence consisting of a prison term of four years and six months, forfeiture of property and a fine of 721 million Belarusian rubles, was to terrorise the Belarusian society and discredit and destroy all independent NGOs and opposition milieus in the country.

This sentence means that the regime completely ignores its international obligations to respect human rights and civil freedoms.

We regret that the arrest and indictment of Mr Belyatsky were made possible also because of the recklessness of the Polish prosecution service. Disclosure to the Belarusian authorities of details of the bank accounts used to keep money for repression victims was an unforgivable mistake which should not have been made in a democratic state. We expect Polish authorities to provide the harmed activists and partners of the Human Rights Centre Vesna with any assistance that may be required.

We demand that Ales Belyatsky and all other political prisoners be immediately and unconditionally released and exonerated.

We call on Polish and EU officials to take a resolute action against the Belarusian authorities with a view to release the prisoners and protect the inherent rights of the Belarusian people. Such an action should be severe for the regime but not for ordinary citizens.

We express our solidarity with all the detained and their families. We will continue to help our Belarusian friends and support their struggle for establishing democracy in their country.

The statement was signed by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Center for International Relations, the Stefan Batory Foundation, the Institute of Public Affairs, Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, the East European Democratic Centre and other organisations

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