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Prominent Belarusian Rights Activist Released

Ales Byalyatski is greeted by supporters at Minsk railway station.
Ales Byalyatski is greeted by supporters at Minsk railway station.
Prominent Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski has arrived in Minsk after he was released from prison.

He was welcomed at a Minsk train station by his wife Natalya Pinchuk and a group of supporters on June 21.

Byalyatski told reporters he was released under an amnesty law that came into force on June 21. The rights activist also that the domestic and international support he had received heped in getting him released early.

The law on "Amnesty in connection with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from Nazi invaders" was ratified in May.

The rights activist said he was informed about his imminent release on the same day, at nine o'clock in the morning.

Byalyatski also said he had been under pressure to ask for a pardon, but refused to do so.

Byalyatski, the 51-year-old head of the Belarusian human rights center "Vyasna," was sentenced to 4 and 1/2 years in prison in November 2011. He was convicted of tax evasion.

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

Byalyatski pleaded not guilty and his supporters said the charges against him were politically motivated.

The European Union and the United States, who have repeatedly demanded Byalyatski's release, welcomed the move.

A statement by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it "a positive development."

But the statement added, "We reiterate our call for the Government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release all the political prisoners who remain in detention and restore their political rights."

An EU statement said the move was "an important step by the Belarusian authorities."

The statement said it "should be followed without delay by the release of all the remaining political prisoners and the reinstatement of their full civil and political rights."

Rights activists say six people remain in prison for political activism, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich.
PHOTOS: Belarusian Rights Activist Arrives In Minsk

Byalyatski was awarded the first ever Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize in September 2013. The award was accepted by Byalyatski's wife.

The Vaclav Havel Prize rewards outstanding civil society action in the defense of human rights in Europe and beyond. It is awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in partnership with the Vaclav Havel Library in Prague and the Czech Charter 77 Foundation.

It is worth 60,000 euros ($81,000).

In 2012 and 2013, Byalyatski was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rights Activist Ales Byalyatski Goes On Trial
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WATCH: Rights Activist Ales Byalyatski Goes On Trial
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    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.