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Belarusian Opposition Demands President Free Activist

Ales Byalyatski sits in a Minsk court during his trial in November 2011.
MINSK -- Opposition politicians and activists in Belarus have handed a petition to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka demanding the immediate release of Ales Byalyatski, the jailed chairman of the Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center.

Vyasna has actively reported on Lukashenka's ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Byalyatski was arrested in August 2011 and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion charges that the European Union and United States have condemned as politically motivated.

The charges against Byalyatski stemmed from his alleged use of personal accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for rights activities in Belarus.

Byalyatski has pleaded not guilty.

With reporting by Interfax