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Prosecutor Wants Five Years In Jail For Belarusian Rights Activist

Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski on trial in Minsk.
Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski on trial in Minsk.
MINSK -- The prosecutor at the tax-evasion trial of prominent Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski has asked for a five-year prison term, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Byalyatski, the head of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights center, was arrested on August 4 in a case that drew widespread international condemnation. 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 for human rights activities in Belarus.

The prosecution could have asked for a jail term of up to seven years.

RFE/RL's correspondent reports from the courtroom that Prosecutor Valery Saykouski also requested that Byalyatski's property be confiscated.

Saykouski stated that in 2007-2010, a total of some 567,000 euros ($765,915) was transferred to accounts belonging to Byalyatski and his organization in banks in Poland and Lithuania. Saykouski said Byalyatski concealed data about the balance in those accounts and thereby committed a crime.

Byalyatski's lawyer Zmitser Layeuski said he disagrees with the prosecution's case.

Layeuski said that his client's rights have been violated during the trial as none of his requests has ever been granted. He said there has been no official explanation for the monitoring of Byalyatski's financial activities. "In fact," Layeuski said, "all the witnesses who testified for the prosecution gave data that prove Byalyatski's innocence."

"What we know now is the fact that Byalyatski has some bank accounts abroad that received some sums of money, of which a certain amount was used by Byalyatski for his human rights activities, that is all. There is no evidence that he did anything wrong," Layeuski added.

"The amounts sent to Byalyatski's accounts were not grants, but loans he had to return. The money did not belong to Byalyatski, but was used for the activities of his organization, namely for business trips, special projects, seminars, etc., and therefore those amounts are not subject to tax," Layeuski said.

Layeuski said his client should be found not guilty and released.

In his final address to the court on November 23, Byalyatski compared Belarusian KGB methods with those of the Soviet-era KGB. He again pleaded not guilty and said that the case has been politically motivated from the very beginning.

Byalyatski had been circulating reports about the authorities' crackdown on peaceful protests since the disputed presidential election on December 19, 2010.

A verdict is expected on November 24

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Fuele issued a joint statement concerning Byalyatski's trial, saying: "We are seriously concerned about the detention and prosecution of internationally renowned Belarusian human rights defender Ales Byalyatski for alleged tax evasion.

"We consider the charges against Ales Byalyatski in the ongoing trial [to be] a politically motivated pretext to target his important work [for] the benefit of victims of repression. As such, the ongoing trial is a highly visible and symbolic manifestation of the crackdown on civil society in Belarus since the [p]residential elections.

"We call on Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release Ales Byalyatski and to drop the charges against him and against his deputy Valyantsin Stefanovich."

Read more in Belarusian here

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