Belarus opposition activist goes on trial

AP News
Posted: Nov 02, 2011 8:37 AM
Belarus opposition activist goes on trial

A prominent Belarusian opposition activist went on trial Wednesday in this former Soviet republic after authorities accused him of tax evasion.

Ales Belyatsky is the head of Vesna, a group providing legal and financial assistance to hundreds of opposition activists arrested for protesting the results of the presidential election in December. President Alexander Lukashenko won the vote, which tightened his grip on power.

Some 700 people were detained at the rally, and some of them are still in prison. This includes two presidential candidates.

In a Minsk courtroom, 49-year-old Belyatsky, who has been in jail since August, looked thin and haggard, but was trying to smile.

Belarus has banned charities from receiving funds from abroad. Belyatsky, who kept the charity's money in bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania, faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty.

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Authorities in Poland and Lithuanian provided data about Vesna's accounts, and both governments later apologized, saying they should not have done that.

"Belyatsky has helped thousands of repressed Belarussians to receive financial and legal aid, and authorities are now taking revenge for this," said Vesna activist Valentin Stefanovich.