Current Affairs Jailed Belarusian activist receives first Václav Havel Human Rights Prize
The first ever Václav Havel Human Rights Prize has been awarded to Belarusian political activist Ales Bialiatski. The prize is bestowed by the Parliamentary Committee of the Council of Europe in cooperation with the Václav Havel Library and the Charter 77 foundation. The jury said that Mr Bialiatski, who is currently in a Belarusian jail, was chosen because of his tireless efforts to defend human rights in his country.
The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Jean-Claude Mignon announced the laureate of the first Václav Havel Human Rights Prize – Ales Bialiatski. The Belarusian activist, founder of the Minsk-based Viasna Human Rights Centre, is currently serving a 4.5-year sentence for alleged tax evasion. In his remarks, Mr Mignon explained the jury’s decision.
“Mr Bialiatski is in prison for his attitudes and beliefs that we share. That’s the reason why he was awarded the prize. In this context, the awarding the first Václav Havel Human Rights Prize has a very special meaning.”
The laureate’s wife, Natalia Pinchuk received the award in lieu of her imprisoned husband on the floor of the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg on Monday. Addressing Ms Pinchuk, the assembly’s president praised Mr Bialitisky’s role in the Belarusian people’s struggle for democracy.
“In his everyday struggle against breaches of human rights, against injustice, authoritarianism and wilfulness, your husband has worked tirelessly so that Belarusian citizens could once achieve the democratic standards we enjoy in Europe.”
The other two shortlisted candidates for the award were the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and China’s Rights Defence Network. The prize is awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in cooperation with the Charter 77 Foundation and the Prague-based Václav Havel Library. I discussed the choice of the prize’s first recipient with the library’s director, Marta Smolíková.
“I think the jury was inspired by Mr Bialiatsky’s fate. He’s also a writer, a leading figure of Belarus’ opposition movement, and he is in jail. So there are some similarities with Václav Havel. His authority in Belarus in connection with the Viasna group which he founded in 1996, is also similar to Charter 77. So I think this was one of the reasons why they decided to award the prize to him.”
Do you think this will have any impact on the situation of Mr Bialitsky in Belarus?
“We can look at the life of Václav Havel. For him, and for the people of Czechoslovakia, it was very important when somebody abroad expressed their solidarity with him. It’s very important for such people, nut just for them personally but also to others who are trying to protect human rights and civic society and who criticize their governments.”
The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize comes with a 60,000 euro award, provided jointly by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Czech Foreign Ministry. In Prague, the Václav Havel Library is due to hold a conference on Wednesday dedicated to the award.