The United States applauds the release from prison of Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski.
Mr. Byalyatski has been active as a defender of human rights since the 1980s. In 1996, he founded the Viasna Human Rights Centre, which provides financial and legal assistance to political prisoners and their families. His work was, and still is, greatly valued by the community of human rights defenders all over the world. In 2005, the Czech NGO People in Need presented to Mr. Byalyatski and Viasna, the Homo Homini Award for promoting human rights, democracy and non-violent solutions to political conflicts.
A year later, Mr. Byalyatski won the Swedish Per Anger Prize, for selflessly and courageously promoting democracy and human rights.
But by 2010, the Belarusian government began to target Mr. Byalyatski for his peaceful activism. Following a controversial presidential election and the protests that followed, Mr. Byalyatski was warned by Belarusian authorities that Viasna should cease operations or its members would be subject to prosecution.
On August 4, 2011, Ales Byalyatski was arrested on trumped up charges of tax evasion and hiding funds abroad, convicted and sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison.
Still, the accolades kept coming. While incarcerated, Mr. Byalyatski received the State Department Human Rights Defenders Award; the Lech Wałęsa Award, presented annually to those who protect and defend human rights in the face of extreme adversity; the Václav Havel Human Rights Award, which honors outstanding civil society human rights activists; and was nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.
On June 21st, twenty months ahead of his scheduled release, Ales Byalyatski was released from prison.
“The United States welcomes the release of Ales Byalyatski as a positive development,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.
“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. These actions would pave the way for normalization of relations between the United States and Belarus. We stand with the people of Belarus and reaffirm our readiness to help them build a democratic, prosperous, and truly independent European state.”