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Belarusian Rights Activist May Face Additional Charge

Belarusian opposition activist Ales Byalyatski at his trial in Minsk
Belarusian opposition activist Ales Byalyatski at his trial in Minsk
MINSK -- A new charge may be brought against prominent Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Byalyatski, the head of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights center, was arrested on August 4 and subsequently charged with tax evasion. He went on trial on November 2.

The charge stems from Byalyatski's reported use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors in support of human rights activities in Belarus.

At the trial on November 10, prosecutor Valery Saykouski asked the judge to adjourn the trial until November 16. He said "the new charge will significantly differ from the previous one," but did not elaborate.

Valyantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimer Labkovich, representing Vyasna, told RFE/RL the new charge will probably be "conducting activities on behalf of an unregistered organization." They said Byalyatski does not deny that Vyasna continues to operate despite having been officially shut down by the authorities.

Belarusian human rights activist Hary Pahanyayla told RFE/RL the prosecutor probably asked for the trial to be adjourned because the charge of tax evasion against Byalyatski could not be proven in court.

Pahanyayla said that is why the prosecutor may have decided to change the charge against Byalyatski to something less serious and in which the possible punishment does not include imprisonment.

Byalyatski pleaded not guilty to the charge of tax evasion. His colleagues and supporters say the case against him is politically motivated.

Byalyatski had been circulating reports about authorities' crackdown on peaceful protests since the disputed presidential election in December.

Read more in Belarusian here