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Rights activists protest outside Belarus embassy in Prague



Activists in Prague protest closure of human rights group VIASANA in Belarus and imprisonment of its founder, Ales Byalyatski

Activists placed office furniture in front of the Belarus embassy in Prague to symbolize the eviction of rights organizations from Belarus foto: NESEHNUTIČeská pozice

Activists from the Brno-based Independent Social Ecological Movement (NESEHNUTÍ) and the Prague-based Civic Belarus initiative placed office furniture and equipment in front of the Belarus embassy in the Troja district in Prague 7 on Monday morning in a protest held under the slogan “Belarus: human rights evicted.”

The two organizations held the protest to draw attention specifically to the closure of the rights organization VIASANA and the imprisonment of its president, Ales Byalyatski, and more generally to the human rights situation in Belarus.

Founded by Byalyatski in 1996, VIASANA was banned in 2003 by the Belarus authorities; nevertheless, he continued running the organization from his home in Minsk until police raided his apartment and arrested him in August 2011. In January this year the Minsk City Court upheld a four-and-half-year prison sentence and the confiscation of property imposed upon Byalyatski by a court of lower instance.

“Belarus has attempted to evict human rights from the moment Alexander Lukashenko became the country’s president. The regime imprisons and evicts individual defenders of civic and human rights,” Radka Vejrychová of NESEHNUTI said in a statement on Monday.

VIASANA, a member of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), of which Byalyatski is a vice president, conducted monitoring of elections in Belarus and coordinated support for political prisoners and opponents of Lukashenko’s rule.
‘The manner in which Alexander Lukashenko treats his opponents is shameful; it’s a disgrace that civilized Europe isn’t able to find a way to act against it.’

“The manner in which Alexander Lukashenko treats his opponents is shameful; it’s a disgrace that civilized Europe isn’t able to find a way to act against it,” chairwoman of the administrative board of the Prague-based Civic Belarus movement Petruška Šustrová said in the same statement.

“The governments and citizens especially of countries where the communist regime ruled for decades cannot forget about the Belarus defenders of human rights — and Ales Byalyatski is by no means the only one — and must at least bring attention to the issue and look for ways how they can help them,” she continued.

Šustrová is a renowned journalist and translator and served as spokeswoman for the Charter 77 dissident movement under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Contested elections

On December 19, 2010, following the announcement of the official presidential election results according to which Lukashenko received almost 80 percent, riot police used violence to disperse a mass protest rally in Minsk arresting hundreds. The EU responded by imposing a travel ban on prominent figures in the Lukashenko administration — including judges and senior police officials — and ordered the confiscation of their property and assets in the EU. Nevertheless, Brussels has continued a policy of engagement with the Lukashenko regime through its Eastern Partnership program.

“The policy of the EU has not been successful, and a new approach must be sought,” Milan Štefanec of NESEHNUTÍ told Czech Position. At the same time, he said the stance of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs towards Belarus following the clampdown in 2010 has been positive and consistent, and Štefanec commended the fact that the Ministry of Interior has provided political asylum to a number of Belarus dissidents and opposition activists.  

“Nevertheless, the ministry’s approach to the situation in other former Soviet countries has not been consistent,” Štefanec said. “Our organization monitors the situation in Georgia, for example, where the situation with human rights is hardly better than in Belarus, yet the Czech Republic continues to support and call for Georgia to become a member of NATO and maybe eventually the EU,” he added.   

In December 2011, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski awarded his ministry’s Pro Dignitate Humana award to imprisoned Ales Byalyatski, whom the watchdog group Transparency International has recognized as a Prisoner of Conscience.