Ales Byalyatski, 2011 Atlantic Council Freedom Awardee, Arrested in Belarus

From the Editors of the New Atlanticist:  On August 4, Belarusian authorities detained Ales Byalyatski, Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna,” and a recipient of a 2011 Atlantic Council Freedom Award.

In June, Byalyatski accepted the Council’s Freedom Award for Viasna’s extraordinary work and in recognition of his long-time struggle for human rights in Belarus. Representatives from Viasna, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and the Belarus Free Theater received the award jointly, on behalf of the people of Belarus, during the Council’s annual Wrocław Global Forum this past June.

Byalyatski was arrested on charges of tax evasion and faces seven years of imprisonment and confiscation of property. The Viasna Human Rights Center has been unable to pay taxes as a legal entity since Belarusian authorities denied its registration in 2003 and forced the organization to shut down its legal operations. In spite of harassment, detentions, and random searches on the part of authorities, Byalyatski and Viasna’s nationwide network of activists have continued to defend human rights in Belarus for over 15 years.

Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe condemned the arrest, stating:

The Council’s Freedom Awards recognize courageous individuals like Ales, who are on the frontlines of freedom. Ales is a tireless and fearless human rights defender, and I am deeply concerned about his arrest.Through such actions Belarus distances itself from modern, free societies. The transatlantic community is most effective when it works together to defend those who struggle for freedom in Belarus.

2010 Freedom Award winner Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, commented:

Dragging people off the streets takes us back to the dark communist past that we do not want repeated ever again. This is unacceptable on our continent in the 21st century. I urge the Belarusian authorities to release Ales Byalyatski and the other unjustly detained political prisoners.