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Belarusian 'prisoner of conscience' wins Lech Walesa Award

PR dla Zagranicy
Nick Hodge 28.09.2012 16:46
Belarusian dissident Ales Bialiatski has been chosen as the winner of this year's Lech Walesa Award.

Lech Walesa (second from right) at Friday's press conference: photo - Piotr Wittman

The decision was made by an international jury under the chairmanship of former president Lech Walesa.

“In this world, which seems more liberated [than in times past], there are still people who really are fighting, and this award thanks them for that struggle, and encourages them to take the struggle further,” Walesa said at a press conference in the Baltic city of Gdansk on Friday.

Ales Bialiatski, who is vice chairman of the International Federation for Human Rights, is currently serving a four-and-a-half year prison sentence in a Belarusian penal colony for “concealment of income on a large scale.”

Bialiatski founded the Viasna Human Rights Centre in 1996, an organization that offers financial and legal assistance to the families of political prisoners.

Poland and Lithuania unwittingly paved the way for Bialiatski's August 2011 arrest, after supplying details of the activist's bank accounts to Belarusian authorities.

Both countries later apologised, with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski describing the situation as “a reprehensible mistake,” claiming that Minsk had taken advantage of international anti-terrorism laws.

Defenders of Bialiatski stress that the money kept in foreign bank accounts was for the aid of those suffering human rights abuses.

Amnesty International has described Bialiatski as “a prisoner of conscience.”

Earlier this week, the US ambassador to Poland awarded the Belarusian political prisoner the Human Rights Defenders Award, which was collected by Bialiatski's son Adam.

The Lech Walesa Award was created in 2008, and members of this year's jury included former Foreign Minister of France Bernard Kouchner, and former prime minister of Slovakia Mikulas Dzurinda. (nh)

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