There is a particular level of despair and inevitability that surrounded today’s sentencing of prominent Belarusian human rights defenders by the courts of Belarusian dictator Lukashenka. Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Uladzimir Labkovich, the founders of the largest Belarusian human rights center Viasna were sentenced to 7-10 years in prison. While many fabricated charges were mentioned, their only offense was protecting the human rights of people in Belarus, a gross crime in the eyes of the Lukashenka regime. Many organizations around the world recognize Viasna’s contributions and awarded Ales Bialiatski numerous prestigious awards, including the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. The center provided major legal and financial assistance to numerous Belarusians who went through Lukashenka’s repression machine ever since he came to power in 1994.
In a country where laws and human rights no longer exist and being Belarusian can be equated to “extremism” in the eyes of Russia’s puppet Lukashenka regime, such a trial is no longer shocking. It is even less surprising for Ales, who, in 2011-2014, went through the Lukashenka-controlled “justice” system. While Minsk District Court could not come up with something more sophisticated than charging Ales with the same fabricated “tax evasion” charges as a decade ago, this time feels different. The court that refused to conduct the trial in Belarusian, the official primary language of Belarus, has now become a conveyer of political prisoners. As Ales said, “…the entirety of Belarus is in prison. Journalists, political scientists, trade union leaders are all in jail…”
As the news of Russia’s plans to fully integrate Belarus and eradicate the Belarusian culture continues to grow, there is a sense that Lukashenka courts will also become the direct extension of the Kremlin repression machine. The system that was once targeting those opposing Lukashenka might now be used to target any Belarusian.
Therefore, today serves as a reminder about the catastrophic situation with human rights in Belarus, where over 1700 political prisoners are already in jail and thousands are being sentenced on politically motivated criminal cases. We point out to disastrous discrimination of the Belarusian language and culture and stress the danger of the annexation of Belarus by Russia. We underline that free, independent democratic Belarus is vital for the national security of the United States and its transatlantic allies. We call on the United States officials to develop a comprehensive policy to hold the Lukashenka regime accountable for its gross violations and abuse of human rights, to force the regime to release the political prisoners, and to safeguard the independence and sovereignty of Belarus.