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Belarus: Arrest and detention of human rights defender Ales Bialiatski, subject of a criminal investigation
Human rights defender Mr Ales Bialiatski was arrested on 4 August 2011, and is currently being detained at the Volodarskogo Pre-trial Detention Centre He is the subject of a criminal investigation following accusations that he was involved in tax evasion.
Ales Bialiatski is the chairman of Human Rights Centre 'Viasna' (HRC 'Viasna'), one of biggest human rights groups in Belarus that works to defend and promote political, cultural and social rights. He is also the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
On 4 August 2011, at 4.30pm approximately, a group of men dressed in civilian clothing who identified themselves as finance police officers arrested Ales Bialiatski on a street in the centre of Minsk. He was taken to the Volodarskogo Pre-trial Detention Centre in Minsk, where he was initially due to be held for up to three days. Ales Bialiatski's apartment in Minsk, as well as his home in Rakov, and the HRC 'Viasna' offices in Minsk were searched and his computer was seized.
On 5 August 2011, the detention was extended to ten days. Ales Bialiatski's wife was allowed to visit him in detention and reportedly brought him clothes and food.
Ales Bialiatski is accused of “tax evasion on a particularly large scale ” under Article 243 (2) of the Belarusian Criminal Code, a crime which carries a prison sentence of up to seven-years, and confiscation of all property. The investigation is being carried out by the Department of Financial Investigations.
It is believed that the arrest is linked to the transfer of Ales Bialiatski's Lithuanian bank account details by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Belarusian authorities under the terms of a bilateral agreement on legal assistance. On 5 August 2011, the Lithuanian deputy Justice Minister stated that Lithuania had shared bank account details of 400 Belarusian citizens with the Belarusian authorities. Following the arrest of Ales Bialiatski, the Lithuanian Government reportedly decided to suspend legal assistance to Belarus.
In 2003, HRC 'Viasna' was officially dissolved by the Belarusian authorities, and several attempts to register the organisation proved to be fuitile. Although it was not officially registered, HRC 'Viasna' continued to operate but considering the risk of criminal charges being brought against its members for forming part of an unregistered organisation under Article 193 (1) of the Belarusian Criminal Code, Ales Bialiatski opened a bank account for HRC 'Viasna' in Lithuania. See Previous Front Line urgent appeal:
Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Ales Bialiatski while he remains in detention. Front Line is further concerned for the security of other members of HRC 'Viasna', considering that the Lithuanian authorities reportedly shared the bank account details of 400 Belarusian citizens with the Belarusian authorities.
Front Line believes that the arrest of Ales Bialiatski is directly linked to his legitimate work as a human rights defender.