A court in Belarus has sentenced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatsky to 10 years in prison.
Human rights group Viasna said he was convicted of smuggling and financing “acts that grossly violate public order”.
Supporters of Bialiatsky, 60, say the authoritarian regime of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is trying to silence him.
Mr. Bialiatsky was one of three winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Bialiatsky was in court alongside two fellow activists, Valentin Stefanovic and Vladimir Labkovich.
Mr. Stefanovic was sentenced to nine years in prison, while Lapkovic was sentenced to seven years, according to Viasna, the group Mr. Bialyatski founded in 1996.
The three pleaded not guilty.
Mr Bialiatsky’s wife, Natalia Pinchuk, said the trial was “clearly against human rights defenders for their human rights work”, and described it as a “harsh” verdict.
Referring to her husband’s letters from prison, where he had been held since his arrest, she said: “He always writes that everything is fine. He doesn’t complain about his health – he tries not to upset me.”
Exiled opposition leader in Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the verdict was “simply appalling”.
“We must do everything we can to fight this shameful injustice and set them free,” she said.
German Foreign Minister Analina Berbock called the accusations a “farce”, saying the three were being punished “simply for their long years of struggle for the rights, dignity and freedom of the people of Belarus”.
According to Viasna, there are currently 1,458 political prisoners in Belarus. Authorities claim there are none.
In awarding the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Bialiatsky, Beret Reiss-Andersen, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the Belarusian government had “tried for years to silence him”.
“He was harassed, arrested, imprisoned and denied a job,” she said.
Mr. Bialyatsky is a veteran of the Belarusian human rights movement, having founded Viasna in 1996 in response to the brutal suppression of street protests that year by Mr. Lukashenko, who has been president of Belarus since the office was set up in 1994.
He was jailed for three years in 2011 after being found guilty of tax evasion, which he denied.
Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been described as Europe’s last dictator.
Increasingly dependent on Moscow for economic, political, and military support, he hosted Russian forces and allowed them to use Belarus as a springboard for their invasion of Ukraine.
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