HomeNewsAles Bialiatski, a caged Nobel Peace Prize winner

    Ales Bialiatski, a caged Nobel Peace Prize winner

    In a cramped room inside Leninski District Court in Minsk, three men have been on trial since January 5. With white hair and bright blue eyes, one of them was sitting on a bench, taking down the prosecution’s arguments into a small notebook on his lap . It was an arduous task. His wrists were shackled by ultra-tight handcuffs, not to mention the fact that he had not been given a real pen but a simple ink refill that he clutched with his fingers.

    These tormented hands were those of 60-year-old Ales Bialiatski, the “Belarusian Sakharov” who was the co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize and the most emblematic of local human rights defenders. “You will not prevent these hands from writing”, this handcuffed intellectual seemed to say, as he bent over his notebook in the courtroom. His silent resistance was reminiscent of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the gulag in 1938, having said to his persecutors, “You will not silence these lips that move.”

    Bialiatski’s lips have never stopped moving, even more so since he founded the NGO Viasna (Spring) in 1996. This organization specializes in legal aid for victims of the atrocities carried out by Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, nostalgic for Stalin and his purges. This is why he and his colleagues, Uladzimir Labkovitch and Valiantsin Stefanovitch, are currently in the dock of this Minsk court. On trial for “smuggling” and “financing mass actions that disrupted public order,” they each face 12 years in prison and heavy fines, according to the prosecutor’s orders.

    Read more Article reserved for our subscribers Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist

    Everything in the Leninsky court, from the layout and the decorum to the proceedings themselves, has remained Soviet. The courtroom, which was too small, had been filled with fake visitors − plainclothes policemen sitting on the benches reserved for the public even before the doors opened. Outside, a long line of relatives, observers and European diplomats waited to enter the courtroom. In the end, they were not let in, on the grounds that there was “no more room.”

    Only observers from the Russian human rights organization Memorial, a partner of Viasna, were able to make their way in. It was thanks to them that reports from the hearings were able to reach The world. They were tolerated on the condition that they remained discreet. Ekaterina Ianchina, representing Memorial, did not last more than a day. Arrested at the end of the first hearing, she was sentenced the next day to 15 days in prison for disturbing the peace.

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    The Batka’s cynicism

    As for the three defendants, they appeared handcuffed and caged, like animals that had to be watched. “Why the handcuffs? They are not going to run away. It’s deliberate, it’s a sign. The authorities want to show their strength and humiliate them. The desire to humiliate is omnipresent,” said Natalia Pintchouk, Bialiatski’s wife, contacted by telephone from a European country where she has taken refuge. The atmosphere is heavy and the omnipresent pro-government television cameras capture close-up shots of the cage and the handcuffs. The aim is to present the Viasna activists as a vulgar band of crooks, “and also as dangerous men,” added Pintchouk.

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