Belarus sentences Nobel Prize winner to 10 years in prison

On Friday, Belarus handed Ales Bialiatski a 10-year prison sentence.

Belarus sentences Nobel Prize winner to 10 years in prison
Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski meets with journalists and his supporters, after he was released from prison and arrived at a railway station in Minsk, Belarus, June 21, 2014. REUTERS/Marina Serebryakova/File Photo

The backstory: Ales Bialiatski, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, has been fighting for human rights in Belarus since the 80s. In 1996, he founded an organization called Viasna, which means "spring" in Belarusian. Its purpose was to combat Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's (who's also a close ally to Russian President Putin) authoritarian powers. The human rights organization offers legal and financial support to demonstrators who have been detained.

More recently: Bialiatski was arrested among hundreds of others after widespread protests in Belarus against a controversial 2020 election that granted Lukashenko a sixth term. He was charged with smuggling cash into the country to fund his group's activities. Then, last October, he was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize, along with two other organizations, for his unwavering commitment to protecting human rights.

The development: On Friday, Belarus handed Bialiatski a 10-year prison sentence, while two other activists, Bialiatski's deputy and Viasna's lawyer, tried with him received nine and seven-year jail terms. This is part of Lukashenko's ongoing efforts to quash opposition in the country since the 2020 pro-democracy protests. Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya expressed her outrage over the verdict, calling it "appalling."

Key comments:

"Ales Bialiatski is one of the foremost fighters for democracy, freedom and human rights in Belarus," said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the leader of the Norwegian Nobel committee, to Reuters.

"Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski has been sentenced to 10 yrs in prison, Valiantsin Stefanovic to 9 yrs & Uladzimir Labkovich to 7 yrs in the regime's fake trial against human rights defenders. We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice & free them," said Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition leader on Twitter.

" The Minsk regime is fighting civil society with violence and imprisonment," said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. "This is as much a daily disgrace as Lukashenko's support for Putin's war (in Ukraine)."

"We are watching and following very closely what is going on in Belarus and all the continued repression by the illegitimate Lukashenko regime against political opponents, against independent voices, against civil society activists, human rights defenders and media," said a European Commission spokesperson to Euronews.  

"He has devoted his life to promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country," said the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, when announcing 2022's three Nobel Peace Prize winners.