The honouring of the imprisoned Belarusian human rights defender sends an important important message
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Belarusian human rights defender Ales’ Bialiatski, the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties and Russian human rights organisation Memorial.
This is how the Nobel Committee explained the selection of the candidates: “The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”
Ales’ Bialiatski, born in 1962, has been fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights in Belarus for over 30 years. His name is known far beyond the borders of the country. He has been awarded several prizes and is the author of seven books. In the 1980s, Bialiatski actively participated in the Belarusian democracy movement and organised numerous actions in memory of the victims of Stalinism. In 1996, he founded the human rights organisation Viasna in response to the controversial constitutional referendum, which gave President Aliaksandr Lukashenka – then only two years in office – far-reaching powers. Viasna provides legal and financial support to political prisoners and their families.
Bialiatski participated several times in the Minsk Forum. He was repeatedly arrested for his political activism. In 2011 he was sentenced to four and a half years in a penal colony. Since 14 July 2021, he has been detained again and is a recognised political prisoner. He faces up to another 12 years in prison.
Thousands of people have been and are still being arrested in Belarus for voicing their political views. Tens of thousands have fled repression abroad. There are currently over 1,300 political prisoners in Belarus, as documented by the Viasna Human Rights Centre. Nevertheless, Belarus has largely disappeared from the headlines after the brutally suppressed mass protests of 2020 and 2021. Ales’ Bialiatski’s Nobel Peace Prize puts his home country back in the centre of international attention.