A court in Belarus has sentenced a leading human rights activist to four and a half years in prison for tax evasion, in a case the EU has attacked as politically motivated.
Ales Belyatsky heads Vesna-96, the country’s best-known human rights group which has campaigned for dozens of opposition activists prosecuted by the authorities after they protested against President Lukashenko’s re-election last year.
The judge told the court it was impossible to hand out a softer punishment. The prosecution based its case on information about bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania. Belarus has tough rules over financing non-government organisations, making help from abroad almost legally impossible.
On Wednesday the EU called for Belyatsky to be freed and for the case to be dropped, describing it as a pretext to target Belyatsky’s work in helping the victims of repression.