Viasna Loses its Office in Minsk

Today, on 26 November, Belarusian authorities confiscated the office of Human Rights Centre Viasna. The seizure is connected to the case of Viasna’s chairman Ales Bialiatski, who in November 2011 was sentenced to 4,5 years in prison and confiscation of property.

The office premises were registered on Ales Bialiatski personally, as Viasna for years has been denied legal registration by the authorities.

“We were aware of the confiscation for a long time so we are prepared for this. Viasna will continue activities as usual”, says Valiantsin Stefanovich, Viasna deputy Chairman.

Viasna has had the office on Nezalezhnastsi Ave 78a for 12 years. The confiscation is the latest of many acts of harassment by the authorities against the organisation during the years.

“The office of Viasna has been a true centre of human rights work in Belarus and many people have felt at home in the premises. I, myself, have memories from this office. The losing of the office is a severe blow to Belarusians, as it is a well-known place to turn to when pursuing their rights” says Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders.

On 26 November, a final activity was arranged at the office as Viasna invited journalists, human rights defenders and others to the premises before the doors were to be sealed by the authorities.

Since Viasna has not been able to register and operate legally in Belarus, the organisation was forced to open private bank accounts abroad. In August 2011 Ales Bialiatski was arrested, suspected of serious tax evasion, after Lithuania and Poland had disclosed information about Belarusian individuals’ bank accounts, at the request of the Belarusian authorities. On 24 November 2011, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and confiscation of property.