Tuesday

3rd May 2016

Opinion

Belarus: convicted, imprisoned, silenced

  • Prison conditions for Belarus human rights defender Ales Bialiatski are getting worse (Photo: joquel)

Ales Bialiatski, Nobel peace prize nominee, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights and president of the Belarusian human rights centre “Viasna” was arrested nearly a year ago on the 4th of August 2011 and sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment.

To put an end to his unswerving devotion to promote and protect human rights in Belarus, the Lukashenko regime fabricated charges of tax evasion in November 2011 swiftly followed by a blatantly politically-motivated trial which put this well known human rights defender behind bars.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Once the initial shocked reactions and public declarations from the EU have fizzled out, what happens behind bars?

In recent weeks, the penitential administration has drastically reduced his food parcels and his already scarce visiting rights, has punished fellow prisoners for talking to him, and has piled on disciplinary sanctions and extra duties, which prevents him from being amnestied or released.

Ales Bialiatski is not the first victim of penitential harassment orchestrated from the top to psychologically break political prisoners, as was the case for former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov.

When Lukashenko attended the final match of the Euro 2012, Ales Bialiatski should have been far from his mind. The truth, however, is different and this human rights defender remains a thorn in the Lukashenko regime, an itch that refuses to go away.

Indeed, despite continuous and worryingly increasing measures of coercion used to make Ales publicly recognise his guilt, he stands firm. But behind bars in Belarus, this firmness must find an echo within the EU.

How does the EU deal with these overblown dictators?

While the Union is to be praised for sponsoring the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of 5 July establishing a UN Special Rapporteur for Belarus, more can be done. Fourteen political prisoners remain in prison and sporadic liberations, like the one of Sannikov and Bandarenko in April, only serve the regime as a ploy to buy time, avoiding new EU sanctions.

Since then, the situation has worsened for political prisoners and the Polish journalist Poczobut, although freed, still faces a possible accumulated seven-year prison sentence. The amnesty law signed by Lukashenko on the 10 July deliberately contains criteria which exclude political prisoners.

While the Belarusian regime wants to convince the EU that it should release pressure and engage in unconditional dialogue, the EU must on the contrary stand firm on the necessary unconditional release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners as a precondition for engagement.

Member states waited until last spring to adopt serious targeted sanctions directed at persons and entities providing financial support to the oppressive Lukashenko regime.

Adopting a coherent approach combining targeted sanctions against these 'bagmen' and engaging the responsibility of EU companies investing in the economic interests they control is necessary to prevent this regime from surviving at the expense of the Belarusian people.

At the Fourth Eastern Partnership foreign ministers' meeting (23-24 July) in Brussels, the EU must take a firm and uncompromising stance towards the last dictator in Europe. This would be a concrete expression of the political commitment taken by the 27 member states through the adoption last June of the EU strategic framework for human rights and democracy.

The EU should also keep on meeting opposition leaders and supporting independent civil society, at a time when the regime systematically prevents them from exiting what increasingly resembles a giant prison, threatening the EU’s attempts to establish a 'dialogue on modernisation' with Belarus. As Belarus still refuses to negotiate visa facilitation, the EU must offer alternative solutions to allow a breathing space for the Belarusian people.

Has Ales Bialiatski found an echo? Is his silence so loud it resonates in Lukashenka’s mind? Time will tell. The International Federation for Human Rights will continue to closely monitor the outcome of all EU relations with Belarus.

To our friend Ales and all human rights defenders and political prisoners behind bars, your voices are not unheard.

The writer is the president of the International Federation for Human Rights

News in Brief

  1. Hungary to hold migrant quota referendum by October
  2. France rejects TTIP in its current form, says Hollande
  3. New commander takes charge of US forces in Europe
  4. Spain issues arrest warrants for Russian officials
  5. Pro-Putin bikers refused entry by Poland, Lithuania
  6. Nato gives details of new Baltic force
  7. German state gets historic Green-CDU coalition
  8. Chinese police to patrol Italian streets

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Music CouncilRegister Now for the 6th European Forum on Music in Wroclaw, European Capital of Culture 2016
  2. Belgrade Security ForumJoin Our Team for the 6th Belgrade Security Forum. Apply Now! Deadline May 20
  3. European Roundtable of IndustrialistsCompanies Make Progress on Number of Women in Leadership Roles
  4. Counter BalanceParliament Gets Tough on Control EU Bank's Funds
  5. ICRCSyria: Aleppo on the Brink of Humanitarian Disaster
  6. CESIWorld Day For Health and Safety at Work: Public Sector Workers in The Focus
  7. EFABasque Peace Process-Arnaldo Otegi Visits the European Parliament
  8. EscardioChina Pays Price of Western Lifestyle With Soaring Childhood Obesity
  9. Centre Maurits CoppetiersThe Existence of a State is a Question of Fact, Not a Question of Law
  10. Martens CentreJoin Us at The Event: Prospects For EU Enlargement After 2019
  11. ICRCSyria: Aid for Over 120,000 People Arrives in Besieged Town Near Homs
  12. Counter BalanceHighway to Hell: European Money Fuelling Controversial Infrastructure Projects