Posts Tagged ‘#WelcomingEurope’

Ales Bialiatski sentenced to 10 years in jail

March 9, 2023

Belarus court sentences Ales Bialiatski to 10-year jail term, The sentencing of the Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights defender has triggered protests. Media and human rights defenders across the world said that his arrest is ‘politically motivated’. See also:

Ales Bialiatski pictured in November 2021
Image caption, Ales Bialiatski pictured in November 2021

Oliver Slow of BBC News reported as follows¨

…Supporters of Mr Bialiatski, 60, say the authoritarian regime of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is trying to silence him. He was arrested in 2021 following massive street protests over widely disputed elections the previous year, and accused of smuggling cash into Belarus to fund opposition activity. Demonstrators were met with police brutality and Lukashenko critics were regularly arrested and jailed during the demonstrations, which started in 2020.

Mr Bialiatski was in court alongside two fellow campaigners, Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich.

Mr Stefanovich was sentenced to nine years in prison, while Mr Labkovich received seven years, according to Viasna, the group Mr Bialiatski founded in 1996. All three had pleaded not guilty.

Mr Bialiatski’s wife, Natalya Pinchuk, said the trial was “obviously against human rights defenders for their human rights work”, describing it as a “cruel” verdict.

Referring to her husband’s letters from prison, where he has been held since arrest, she said: “He always writes that everything is fine. He doesn’t complain about his health – he tries not to upset me.”

Kostya Staradubets, a spokesperson for Viasna, said the sentences imposed on the three activists were “breaking our hearts”.

Speaking to the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme, he said: “We knew that our three colleagues would get long prison terms but anyway it’s still a shock, it’s breaking our hearts, not only the [prison] terms are long but the conditions also very horrific.

Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the sentencing was “simply appalling”. “We must do everything to fight against this shameful injustice and free them,” she said.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize, said the verdict was a “tragedy” for Mr Bialiatski and described the charges as “politically motivated”.

In awarding the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Bialiatski, Ms Reiss-Anderson said the Belarusian government had “for years tried to silence him”. “He has been harassed, he has been arrested and jailed, and he has been deprived of employment,” she said.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned what he described as “sham trials”, adding they were “yet another appalling example of the Lukashenko regime trying to silence those who stand up in defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people in Belarus”.

There are currently 1,458 political prisoners in Belarus, according to Viasna. Authorities claim there are none.

Mr Bialiatski is a veteran of the human rights movement in Belarus, establishing Viasna in 1996 in response to the brutal crackdown of street protests that year by Mr Lukashenko, who has been president of Belarus since the office was established in 1994. See: ¨

This was followed by the sentencing of women journalists:

How anti-illegal migrants rules in the EU threaten human rights defenders

March 26, 2019
An African at a temporary camp for immigrants seeking entry to Europe, in Melilla (Spanish autonomous city in North Africa), 12 October 2005 (EPA/Chema Moya)

Lizan Nijkrake published on 25 March 2019 an excellent piece under the title Should it be a crime to help illegal immigrants?” She describes how European defenders of migrants are being prosecuted for aiding illegal immigrants. EU states had a choice to exempt humanitarian aid from criminal charges but most didn’t take it. And those who did are not always following the rules.

Take the UK as an example: The United Kingdom’s Institute for Race Relations, which has been tracking criminal cases, reported that 81 people were prosecuted for assisting immigrants in 2018, compared with 20 in 2017. “Things escalated in 2018,” says Anya Edmond-Pettitt, a researcher at the Institute of Race Relations. “People got charged with serious crimes, linked to terrorism and membership of a criminal organization.

Why is this happening?

In 2002, the EU adopted a directive that requires all EU member states to impose sanctions on citizens who intentionally help illegal immigrants secure unauthorized entry into, transit across or residence within in the EU — thus making it illegal to offer aid in the form of free rides or overnight stays. The directive says its objective is to “combat the aiding of illegal immigration” to further the EU’s goal of creating “an area of freedom, security and justice.” But in a study for the European Parliament, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a Brussels-based think tank, concluded that the EU rules are not in line with the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

The UN protocol stipulates that assisting a migrant can be a crime only when there is a clear aim of making money or other material gains. While the EU directive says offering overnight stays is illegal only if it is done for profit, CEPS reported last December  that 13 out of 28 member states have criminalized free sleepovers. Out of 28 EU countries, CEPS says that only four have laws that adhere fully to UN protocol: Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal.

The EU directive allows member states to exempt individuals from sanctions for helping illegal immigrants enter or move across EU territory if done for reasons of “humanitarian assistance,” such as giving food, shelter and first aid to people in need. Nine member states have included some types of exemption in their national laws, according to the European Commission.

But the CEPS said states should be required to make such an exception. “And even in the European nations that have exempted humanitarian acts, we still see prosecutions happening, for example in Italy,” said CEPS researcher Lina Vosyliūtė.

Lizan Nijkrake’s piece gives concrete examples of how the laws and the application in practice are affecting those who try to help.

But no change is expected any time soon. The European Commission has consistently said there’s no need to change the law. In early 2018, Nijkrake wrote that it should be left to judges in the countries themselves to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to prosecute citizens. It has noted that few people have been convicted. While most of those charged have been acquitted, in the case involving Van Gestel and Berghe (in Belgium), seven of the defendants were convicted and given suspended sentences of 12 to 24 months.

More than 170 organizations have launched an initiative, “We are a welcoming Europe – let us help!” (#WelcomingEurope), with the goal of securing a million signatures on a citizens’ petition that calls for migration policy reforms, including the decriminalization of deeds of solidarity.