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Open letter to President Lukashenko calling for the release of writer and human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski

Thursday 12 September 2013 - 1:00am

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alexander Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk

Your Excellency,

We write to you as the President of PEN International and as the PEN centres of PEN International - the writers’ and free expression organisation with centres in over 100 countries – on the occasion of the 79th PEN International Congress, held in Iceland on 9-12 September 2013.

At each PEN Congress one imprisoned writer is selected to represent all writers currently detained around the world for practising their right to free expression. This writer is represented by an ‘empty chair’ which acts as a reminder of the writer’s absence and separation from his colleagues.

This year, PEN has chosen the imprisoned Belarusian writer and human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski as emblematic of all writers persecuted for their work.

Bialiatski is the founder of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organisation based in Minsk that campaigned for scores of opposition activists who were harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. On 4 August 2011, he was arrested and charged with tax evasion: these charges stemmed from his reported use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for Vyasna’s human rights activities in Belarus. On 24 November 2011, Bialiatski was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in a high security prison colony and his property was confiscated. On 24 January 2012, his appeal was denied and his sentence upheld.

We believe that Ales Bialiatski was targeted as part of Belarus’ harsh crackdown on free expression and human rights activists which began in late 2010, and that his imprisonment is a direct result of his legitimate activities in defence of human rights in Belarus. Our view is supported by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which, in 2012, found that Bialiatski’s detention was arbitrary and urged the Belarusian authorities to release him and accord him an enforceable right to compensation.

We, the President of PEN International and the PEN centres of PEN International urge that you immediately and unconditionally release Ales Bialiatski, that you quash his conviction and that you provide him with an enforceable right to compensation for his arbitrary detention. We also ask that your government ceases the harassment, arrest and detention of writers and human rights activists, and that it fully upholds its obligations to protect legitimate freedom of opinion and expression as provided for by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Belarus is a state party.

Yours Sincerely,

John Ralston Saul
President of PEN International

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