Accessibility links

Breaking News


Three wives of Belarusian political prisoners held a press conference to discuss their husbands plight: Iryna Khalip (left), Matyna Adamovich (center), Volha Bandarenka (right).
MINSK -- The wives and fiancee of three jailed Belarusian opposition politicians say their lives are at risk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

The three women told journalists in Minsk on November 1 that they are urging the European Union "not to lessen pressure on Belarus, as there is no liberalization, but actually a humanitarian catastrophe" in the country.

Iryna Khalip, the wife of former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau, said her husband has been transferred to so-called "closed regime premises" (PKT) where he is sharing a cell with a tuberculosis patient.

"Andrey is currently in PKT, he has been refused a one-on-one meeting with his lawyer," she said. "He was warned that he might spend many days in transfer trains again if any reports about his current ordeal appear in the media. The situation is getting worse, as the prison authorities are trying to force him to ask for clemency."

Khalip also addressed President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, saying: "Everybody knows you are keeping our husbands in jail because you are afraid of them. Be a man, prove that you are not afraid of them and release them."

Maryna Adamovich, the fiancee of former presidential candidate Mikola Statkevich, said he phoned her recently and said that "anything can happen to me, because I will never sign any letter asking for clemency from President Lukashenka."

"For four months, the penitentiary administration has been rejecting our requests to let us marry. They keep saying that we are not related and therefore I have no right to visit him and represent his interests," Adamovich said.

Volha Bandarenka, the wife of Zmitser Bandarenka, who was Sannikau's official representative during the presidential election in December, told journalists on November 1 that her husband is very sick and has been transferred to a quarantine ward within the penitentiary.

She said she has not received letters from him for a long time and considers that part of the pressure exerted on political prisoners in Belarus.

Sannikau, Statkevich, and Bandarenka were found guilty of organizing and/or taking part in the mass protests that broke out in Minsk in December following the controversial announcement of Lukashenka's reelection for another presidential term. Opposition activists said the election was fixed.

Sannikau and Statkevich were jailed in May for five and six years, respectively. Bandarenka was sentenced in April to two years in jail.

Read more and watch video coverage in Belarusian here
Ales Byalyatski in a Minsk courtroom on November 2
WATCH: Ales Byalyatski appeared resigned to the proceedings, posing for journalists in the caged dock at the start of the trial on November 2, smiling politely, and wearing a red shirt over an exposed T-shirt that read "Vyasna." (natural sound; by RFE/RL's Belarus Service)


MINSK -- The trial in Minsk has begun of prominent Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski in a case that has drawn international condemnation, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Byalyatski, the head of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights center, was arrested on August 4 and later charged with tax evasion.

FOLLOW THE TRIAL: RFE/RL's Belarus Service live-blogs the November 2 court proceedings (in Belarusian)

The charges stem from Byalyatski's reported use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors in support of human rights work in Belarus. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison and the confiscation of his assets.

Byalyatski's colleagues and supporters say the case against him is politically motivated. He had been circulating reports on Belarusian authorities' crackdown on peaceful protests since a disputed presidential election in December 2010.

Byalyatski pleaded not guilty and made two requests -- to be released from pretrial detention before the trial ends and to have the proceedings conducted in Belarusian.

Judge Syarhey Bandarenka rejected both requests and offered Byalyatski the services of a Belarusian-Russian translator. Translator Katsyaryna Yermakova signed the necessary papers and took her seat next to Byalyatski's lawyer, Zmitser Layeuski.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports that representatives of the European Union and United States were present in the courtroom for the start of the trial.

Also on hand were leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Oleh Volchek, whose Public Legal Assistance organization was shut down by the authorities in 2003, as well as Paval Sapelka, who was disbarred on March 3 after having represented jailed presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau, and prominent literary figures Barys Pyatrovich and Eduard Akulin.

Belarusian opposition activist Ina Kuley was ordered to leave the courtroom because she was wearing a T-shirt with Byalyatski's portrait.

Byalyatski's wife was not in the courtroom, as per his request.

The prosecutor questioned Byalyatski about his profession and occupation. Byalyatski answered that he had been working as a writer, a Polish-Belarusian translator since 2007, and had always paid taxes.

Byalyatski also told the prosecutor he had never been involved in any commercial activities and was not paid for his work as vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights.

The prosecutor mentioned Byalyatski's accounts in Lithuania's Nordbank and the Polish Bank Slaski with a combined balance of 550,000 euros ($750,000).

The prosecutor said Byalyatski caused "large-scale" financial damage to the government by failing to pay to the state treasury 352.3 million Belarusian rubles ($42,585) that he owed in profit tax.

Byalyatski answered that it was not clear what proportion of the total balance in his bank accounts the investigation considered "profit." He again affirmed that he was not guilty and that the charges against him were politically motivated.

"I am certain the authorities are persecuting me for my political views, my human rights activities, and my open criticism of the current authorities," Byalyatski said.

Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, said the tax-evasion charges were false.

"In our country, unfortunately, there are gross violations of freedom of association and therefore, in order for Vyasna to perform its functions, Byalyatski was simply forced to resort to this device where money had to be kept in personal bank accounts abroad," Hulak said.

Human Rights Watch said in a November 1 statement that "by prosecuting Byalyatski the authorities are trying to finally slam the door shut on human rights work in Belarus."

Byalyatski's arrest also embarrassed European Union members Lithuania and Poland when it emerged that both had helped the case against him by handing over financial information on him to the Belarusian authorities.

with agency reports

Load more

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More