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Belarus: Risk of judicial harassment of human rights defender Ms Taciana Reviaka in connection with criminal case against Mr Ales Bialiatski
Taciana has previously submitted a tax declaration covering the period from 2004 to 2010 in which no irregularities were found. Ms Taciana Reviaka is the president of the Belarusian Human Rights House and a council member of the Human Rights Centre Viasna, of which Mr Ales Bialiatski is the chairman.
During the questioning at Pershamayski district Inspection, Taciana Reviaka learnt that the inspection had received information from Ales Bialiatski's criminal file 'from higher authorities', regarding money transfers between his bank account and Taciana Reviaka's account with a Lithuanian bank.
The criminal investigation against Ales Bialiatski for 'tax evasion' was opened on the basis of information about his bank accounts submitted by Lithuania and Poland to the Belarusian authorities. Despite the fact that the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has officially refuted the information submitted and that during the court hearing several witnesses and documents sent by donor organisations proved that the money received in those accounts was for the purpose of financing the human rights programs of the HRC Viasna, the court decided to consider all the sums received to be personal assets of the defender.
On 24 November 2011, Ales Bialiatski was found guilty and condemned to four and a half years of imprisonment under a strict regime, and all his property was confiscated. The court also fined the human rights defender 721 million Belarusian Rubles (approx. 63,800 EUR) for alleged unpaid taxes, 36 million Rubles (approx. 3,200 EUR) for costs incurred by the state, and over 140 million Rubles (approx. 12,700 EUR) for the alleged late payment of arrears.
Taciana Reviaka acted as a witness for the defence in the criminal investigation against Ales Bialiatski. She has admitted that she received money transfers from Ales Bialiatski's bank accounts for the implementation of the HRC Viasna's human rights programs, but refused to give details on how it was spent, quoting her right not to bear witness against herself under Article 27 of the Belarusian Constitution. It is feared that the money already recognised as Ales Bialiatski's personal assets for which he was fined for alleged unpaid taxes and alleged late payment of arrears, could be also recognised as Taciana Reviaka's personal assets and used as a pretext to open a criminal case against her.
Front Line Defenders believes that the Tax inspection service is being used by the authorities to put additional pressure on members of the Human Rights Centre Viasna who have vowed to continue their defence of human rights in Belarus despite the recent confiscation of the organisation's office.