Imprisoned Belarussian activist considered for Sakharov Prize

Ales Bialiatski.jpg

Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarussian opposition activist, has been nominated for the European Parliament’s annual Sakharov Prize, EURACTIV has learned.

As the European Parliament resumes its activity, signatures are starting to be collected for the nomination of Bialiatski, a freedom fighter and human rights defender currently imprisoned by the Belarussian regime.

MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (European People's Party, Poland), who took the initiative, wrote letters to his colleagues, stressing that Bialiatski's contribution to the promotion of peace and democracy has been recognised widely, including by the United Nations and by the fact that he has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“The European Parliament, which already expressed its support for Mr Bialiatski's in the Resolution of 15 September 2011, in granting him the Sakharov Prize would prove that his persistent fight for freedom in the last remaining dictatorship on our continent is exemplary and one of universal importance. It would also, I believe, give Mr Bialiatski even more strength to carry on with his work in the defence of European values,” Sariusz-Wolski wrote to MEPs.

As EURACTIV understands, there are no other candidacies for the Sakharov Prize this year. In theory, each candidate needs at least 40 signatures or support from MEPs or that of a political group in order to be considered. The deadline for collecting the signatures is the afternoon of 12 September.

Bialiatski is an academic (he holds a doctorate from the Belarussian Academy of Sciences) and a member of the Belarussian Writers Union. He has founded the Viasna Human Rights Centre, a non-governmental organisation that provides financial and legal assistance to political prisoners and their families.

On 24 October 2011 Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years of prison for alleged tax evasion. The sentence was condemned by the United Nations and many countries called for his immediate release. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and the International Federation for Human Rights, of which he is vice president, launched a campaign for his release. Earlier this year Bialiatski was nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Sakharov Prize, named after Soviet scientists and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in 1988 by the European Parliament. The last to be awarded were the Russian civil rights society Memorial in 2009, the Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas in 2010 and a group of representatives of the Arab people, in recognition and support of their role in the Arab spring, for 2011.

The Sakharov Prize is usually awarded annually on or around 10 December, the day on which the UN General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, also celebrated as Human Rights Day.

President Alexander Lukashenko, in power in the nation of 10 million since 1994, has tolerated little dissent, cracking down on public protests and imprisoning opposition leaders. Human rights activists say about 15 people are still kept in Belarussian prisons on political grounds.

Lukashenko’s re-election for a fourth term in December 2010 sparked mass street protests by the opposition, which led to several opposition candidates who ran against him being arrested.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Belarus, but they seem likely to increase the isolation of the country and make it still more reliant on long-time ally Russia, which bailed it out at the peak of a financial crisis in 2011. Lukashenko has relied largely on financial support from Russia, which provides Belarus with cheap energy and other benefits, seeing it as a buffer between itself and NATO.

  • 10 Dec.: International Human Rights Day

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