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Belarusian Nobel Prize Winner Byalyatski Could Face Up To 12 Years In Prison.

Ales Byalyatski receives the 2020 Right Livelihood Award at the digital award ceremony in Stockholm in December 2020.

Ales Byalyatski receives the 2020 Right Livelihood Award at the digital award ceremony in Stockholm in December 2020.

The case of jailed 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Byalyatski has been sent to a Belarusian court, with the rights activist and three of his colleagues from Vyasna facing up to 12 years in prison on smuggling and tax-evasion charges that his supporters dismiss as politically motivated retribution on the part of longtime authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

"The 'Vyasna' case was sent to court. Political prisoners of human rights defenders may soon be put on trial," the group said on Twitter on November 28.

The 60-year-old Byalyatski, who has been in custody for more than 16 months, is charged along with Valyantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimer Labkovich, and Zmytser Soloviev for allegedly bringing money into the country for "illegal activities and financing Vyasna," the largest rights body in the former Soviet country and one of the main sources of information on political detentions and arrests.

"They face between 7 and 12 years," Vyasna added in the tweet.

Byalyatski, who has been fighting for democracy and human rights in his beleaguered homeland his entire life, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize along with the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties and the embattled Russian group Memorial.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.

He founded the Vyasna Human Rights Center, originally a Minsk-based organization with the name Vyasna-96. In 1999, it was reborn as a national nongovernmental rights organization.

The NGO was outlawed by the Belarusian Supreme Court in October 2003 for its role monitoring the country's 2001 presidential election. It has continued its work, however, as an unregistered NGO.

The main work of the organization has been defending and supporting political prisoners. The group -- and Byalyatski personally -- has regularly been harassed and persecuted by Lukashenka's government since its founding.

Belarusian authorities have moved to shut down critical and nonstate media and human rights bodies in the wake of mass protests that erupted in August 2020 after a presidential election the opposition says was rigged.

The opposition and Western governments say Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was driven into exile, won the vote, which has not been recognized by the United States, the European Union, and several other countries.

Thousands have been detained since the vote and there have been credible reports of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

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