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Belarus Nobel Peace Prize laureate sentenced to 10 years in prison

Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiatski is seen in the defendants' cage in the courtroom at the start of the hearing in Minsk on Jan. 5, 2023
Vitaly Pivovarchik
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BELTA/AFP via Getty Images
Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiatski is seen in the defendants' cage in the courtroom at the start of the hearing in Minsk on Jan. 5, 2023

MOSCOW — A court in Belarus has sentenced last year's Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in prison for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.

The founder of the human rights organization Viasna, Ales Bialiatski was among thousands of Belarusians who were detained amid a brutal crackdown on protests against the continued rule of strongman Alexander Lukashenko following disputed national elections in 2020.

Three years later, a Minsk court found Bialiatski guilty of smuggling money from abroad to finance the anti-government demonstrations.

Two other colleagues from Viasna — Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich — were also sentenced to nine and seven years, respectively, on the same charges.

According to Viasna, the men sat handcuffed with their arms behind their backs in a cage as the judge read out the ruling.

All three denied the charges against them.

The case was widely seen as political retribution for Viasna's push for democratic reforms in Belarus — a cause for which Bialiatski shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize with the Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who many Belarusians believe bested Lukashenko in the presidential elections that triggered the 2020 protests, denounced the ruling as payback from a vengeful dictator.

"The shameful sentence against Ales, Valiantsin & Uladzimir is the regime's revenge for their steadfastness," wrote Tsikhanouskaya in a post to Twitter.

"Revenge for solidarity. Revenge for helping others. Ten years for a Nobel Prize laureate shows clearly what Lukashenka's regime is."

We won't stop fighting for our heroes," she added.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Charles Maynes