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Belarus: Update- Confiscation of property of human rights defender Mr Ales Bialiatski set to go ahead
On 4 July 2012, the Court of Pervomayski District of Minsk confirmed the list of property to be confiscated as part of the sentence handed down to Mr Ales Bialiatski in 2011 for alleged 'tax evasion on a large scale'.
The decision approved the inventory of Ales Bialiatski's property which was compiled by authorities in recent months. This inventory includes Human Rights Centre Viasna's offices, where the organisation has been based for 12 years, as well as the home and the summer house of Ales Bialiatski and his wife.
The confiscation, which is expected to be carried out this summer, will leave Viasna without an office, which is further complicated by the fact that landlords are afraid to rent space to Viasna due to the fear of being prosecuted should they do so. The confiscation will also leave Ales Bialiatski and his wife without a home.
On 4 August 2012, a year will have passed since Ales Bialiatski's arrest. The accusations against him and the resulting criminal conviction and sentencing are directly connected to his human rights activities as the Chairman of Viasna Human Rights Centre, which was established by Ales Bialiatski and his colleagues in 1996 and closed down by the Government of Belarus in 2003.
Ales Bialiatski and his colleagues have bravely continued their human rights activities in spite of the political reality in Belarus, where human rights are systematically violated and human rights defenders punished. Due to the impossibility of working within a legal framework hostile to human rights organisations, Ales Bialiatski and Viasna could only continue to fund their human rights work by receiving grants from legitimate human rights organisations into foreign bank accounts opened in neighbouring countries for this purpose.
Viasna and its chairman were subsequently targeted as a result of the outspoken and courageous nature of the group, and they were the victims of a smear campaign and judicial harassment.
On 24 November 2011, Ales Bialiatski was found guilty of 'tax evasion on a large scale' by the Pervomayski District Court of Minsk. The human rights defender was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment and confiscation of all property "including belongings registered in the name of other persons'. The court also fined him 721 million Belarusian Rubles (approx EUR 70, 620) for alleged unpaid taxes and 36 million Belarusian Rubles (approx EUR 3,527) for State costs.
On 24 January 2012, the Minsk City Court dismissed Ales Bialiatski's cassation appeal.
The authorities have continued to put pressure on Ales Bialiatski in prison. On 29 March, he was ordered to pay an additional fine of 140 million Belarusian Roubles (approximately EUR 12,700). Moreover, prison authorities have alleged that the human rights defender has violated the prison rules on several occasions, including the allegation that he refused to participate in a talent show.
Supposedly as a consequence of these alleged violations, several extraordinary measures have been taken against Ales Bialiatski, including a reduction in the number of visits he is permitted and restrictions on his right to send and receive correspondence.
The alleged violations of prison rules are believed to be fabricated and it is thought that they will be used as a justification in refusing to grant him an early release under the recently passed Amnesty Law.
Front Line Defenders reiterates its condemnation of the arrest and imprisonment of Ales Bialiatski and again calls on the authorities in Belarus to immediately quash the prominent human rights defender's conviction, to effect his immediate and unconditional release and to fully compensate him for any fines paid and damages suffered.