Belarusian Nobel Prize Winner on Trial in Minsk

The trial of 60-year-old Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski began on Thursday. He is among hundreds of Belarusians who were jailed during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2020 and faces 12 years in prison if convicted.

Belarusian Nobel Prize Winner on Trial in Minsk
Image credit: BelTA/Reuters [via Al Jazeera]

Facts

  • The trial of 60-year-old Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski began on Thursday. He is among hundreds of Belarusians who were jailed during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2020 and faces 12 years in prison if convicted.
  • The 2020 protests erupted in opposition to Pres. Alexander Lukashenko, who's been in office since 1994. Bialiatski, the founder of the Viasna human rights center, faces trial alongside two other top figures in the group.
  • The trio is charged with financing protests and smuggling money, to which all three have pleaded not guilty. Byalyatski was arrested in 2021 before being awarded the Nobel Prize last October alongside the Russian rights group, Memorial, and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.
  • A total of 50K Belarusians have been arrested for protesting or criticizing authorities since 2020, with activists estimating that there are still around 1.5K being held in Belarusian prisons. Rights defenders have labeled Bialiatski and his colleagues "political prisoners."
  • Viasna provided immense support to the protest movement — including financial aid for detained protesters — which followed the 2020 presidential election in which Lukashenko won. The US, Germany, and the EU have said the 2020 election was neither free nor fair.
  • As Bialiatski and his colleagues Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich begin their trial, a fourth defendant, Dmitry Solovyov, is being tried in absentia after fleeing to Poland. Judge Maryna Zapasnik has also refused to hold the trial in the Belarusian language instead of Russian and denied Bialiatski's request for a translator.

Sources: Al Jazeera, ABC, Reuters, and DW.

Narratives

  • Pro-establishment narrative, as provided by Libereco. The Russian-allied Lukashenko government is an authoritarian, warmongering regime with no respect for human rights, which is why it felt the need to arrest Bialiatski and thousands of others to retain its grip on the Belarusian people. Bialiatski's career exemplifies the democratic ideals shared secretly by people in the East and vocally by leaders in the West, and the only solution to this unfortunate trial is to free him, his colleagues, and every other political prisoner currently behind bars.
  • Establishment-critical narrative, as provided by Grayzone. For Western governments, media outlets, and Western-aligned NGOs to criticize Lukashenko harshly is laughable, given that these same organizations have conducted smear campaigns and attempted international arrests of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. The CIA is alleged to have been involved in regime change operations in Belarus, so to what extent these protests erupted out of nowhere is blurry at best. The US and EU should stop hypocritically criticizing other governments.