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Radio Svaboda Celebrates Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize Winner Ales Byalyatski: "He Is Central To Our Mission"

Ales Byalyatski's book at Vaclav Havel's grave, 30Sep2013

Ales Byalyatski's book at Vaclav Havel's grave, 30Sep2013

Jailed Belarusian rights activist Ales Byalyatski has won the first Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, announced in Strasbourg on September 30.

Byalyatski, a co-founder of the Viasna Human Rights Center and vice president of the International Federation of Human Rights, was arrested in August 2011 on charges of tax evasion and was sentenced to more than four years in prison. His supporters insist the charges are politically motivated, and numerous human rights organizations and western governments have condemned his imprisonment.

Named for the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, the award was established in 2013 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Vaclav Havel Library, and the Charter 77 Foundation to honor outstanding civil society and human rights contributions. Also nominated this year were Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, and the Rights Defense Network from China.

"This [prize] is an appreciation of the many years of his rights activism, his principled position, heroism, his openly standing up for human rights and freedom of his people, as well as of his love of Belarus," said Natallya Pinchuk, Byalyatski's wife, in accepting the prize on his behalf.

RFE/RL’s Belarus Service Director Alexander Lukashuk spoke about the award and described the special relationship between Havel, Byalyatski, and Radio Svaboda, as the service is known locally.

How has the Belarusian Service told Ales Byalyatski’s story?

Byalyatski has been a long-time focus of our reporting and we have been following his activities for many years. When he was in jail and put on trial we reported every day from the trial and the result is a book about his case called The Byalyatski Matter. We smuggled it to Ales in prison and received a letter from him in response. We’ve been following him for a long time and his work’s impact is central to our mission.

There are many political prisoners in Belarus. Why does Byalyatski’s case resound abroad?

He is a classic human rights defender and dissident, so he has high name recognition abroad. The work he did in Belarus reached many people throughout the world in a very direct way.

Tell me about the special relationship Vaclav Havel had with the Belarus Service and Byalyatski.

Two years ago, Radio Svaboda asked Vaclav Havel to send Christmas greeting to political prisoners in Belarus. The letter to Byalyatski was the last letter Havel wrote in his life. Byalyatski wrote to us saying the letter was the most precious document he has with him. This award is also very significant to the Belarus Service and our reporting of the case.

-- Emily Thompson