March 2, 2012

President of the Republic of Belarus
Aleksandr G. Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or +375 172 22 38 72

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the imprisonment of our colleague, human rights activist, writer, and PEN Member Ales Bialiatski.

According to our information, on January 24, 2012, Ales Bialiatski’s appeal was rejected and his four-and-a-half-year sentence for tax evasion was upheld. He was transferred from his Minsk detention center to a labor camp in Babruysk. The charges reportedly stemmed from his use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for the human rights activities of his organization Vyasna (Spring).

Bialiatski was originally arrested and charged with tax evasion on August 4, 2011. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Fuele issued a joint statement on November 23, 2011, which read, “We consider the charges against Ales Bialiatski in the ongoing trial a politically motivated pretext to target his important work [for] the benefit of victims of repressions.” Bialiatski was sentenced on November 24, 2011.

Ales Bialiatski is the head of the Vyasna human rights center, which has campaigned on behalf of opposition activists persecuted by the Belarusian government. Vyasna had previously been stripped of its official registration in 2003, making it difficult under Belarusian economic laws for the organization to raise funds for its activities. Bialiatski was also a founding member of Belarusian literary organization Tutejshyja (The Locals). He served as a former head of the Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum in Minsk, and is also author of a book of essays entitled Jogging on the Geneva (2006). He is a member of Belarusian PEN.

PEN American Center is concerned that the sentence handed down to Ales Bialiatski was upheld in an attempt to prevent his legitimate defense of human rights, and is part of a wider trend that has seen a serious crackdown on opposition activism in Belarus in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Mr. Oleg Kravchenko
Charge d’Affaires a.i.
Embassy of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 986-1805

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