Mecacci calls for release of human rights activist in Belarus

COPENHAGEN, 1 September 2011—Matteo Mecacci (Italy), chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions today called on Belarusian authorities to immediately cease the harassment of human rights activists, including Ales Bialiatski.

Bialiatski, president of the Human Rights Centre Viasna, an unregistered NGO working to promote human rights and democracy in Belarus, has been detained by the authorities on charges of tax evasion connected the organization’s bank account in Vilnius, Lithuania.

While a handful of political prisoners connected to the December 2010 post-election demonstrations have seen charges against them dismissed, many others remain behind bars.

“It is unacceptable that in the heart of Europe, civic activities, such as those of Viasna continue to be criminalized. The arrest of Mr. Bialiatski is arbitrary, and he should be released immediately,” said Mecacci.

Mecacci’s statement lends further support to the OSCE chair-in-office and others in the international community who have called for Belarus to release all political prisoners and to allow representatives of civil society, human rights defenders and independent media to work without fear of retribution and harassment by the authorities in Minsk.

The Belarusian Criminal Code prohibits individuals from acting on behalf of an unregistered organization, one of several violations of the country’s OSCE commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms.