© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski meets with journalists and his supporters, after he was released from prison and arrived at a train station in Minsk, Belarus, June 21, 2014. REUTERS / Marina Serebryakova
By Nora Buli and Gwladys Fouche
OSLO (Reuters) – Jailed Belarusian activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian human rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, amid fighting in the region’s region. They are the worst conflict in Europe since the Second World War.
The award, the first peace award since Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine, has echoes of the Cold War era, when prominent Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn won the Nobels for peace or literature.
The award will be seen by many as a condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is celebrating his 70th birthday on Friday, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, making it one of the more controversial awards. politically in decades.
“We believe it is a war that is the result of an aggressive, dictatorial regime,” Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen told Reuters after the announcement.
She said the committee wanted to honor “three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence”.
“It’s not one person, one organization, one quick fix,” she said in an interview. “It is the united efforts of what we call civil society that can stand up to authoritarian states and, or, human rights violations.”
She called on Belarus to free Byalyatski and said the award was not directed against Putin.
Belarusian security police last July arrested Byalyatski, 60, and others in a new crackdown on Lukashenko dissidents.
Authorities shut down non-state media and human rights groups following mass protests the previous August against a presidential election that the opposition said was rigged. cheat.
Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Reuters: “The (Nobel) committee is sending a message that political freedoms, human rights and positive civil society are part of it. of peace.
He said the award would boost Byalyatski’s morale and strengthen the hand of the Center for Civil Liberties, an independent Ukrainian human rights organization that also focuses on fighting corruption.
Smith added: “Although the Memorial has been closed in Russia, it persists as an idea that it is right to criticize power and events and history.”
Byalyatski’s wife told Reuters he might not even have known about the news she tried to tell him in a telegram sent to a prison in Belarus.
In Geneva, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said Moscow was not interested in the award. “We are not interested in this,” Gennady Gatilov told Reuters.
In Belarus, the award is not covered by state media.
Founded in 1989 to help victims of Soviet-era political repression and their loved ones, Memorial campaigns for democracy and civil rights in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Its co-founder and first leader was Sakharov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
Memorial, Russia’s most prominent human rights group, was ordered to disband last December for violating a law that requires certain civil society groups to register as foreign agents, a one-year limit for pressure on critics of the Kremlin that they haven’t seen since Soviet times. day.
Memorial board member Oleg Orlov called the award a “spiritual support,” but when asked by reporters if it would help protect his organization or its work, “I’m afraid not,” he said.
Speaking after a Moscow court hearing to decide whether Memorial archives should be turned over to the state, Orlov said: “When a country destroys human rights, that country will become a threat to the world.”
“We are continuing our work defending human rights,” he added. “It hasn’t stopped, it’s still going on.”
The Memorial Award is the second in a row to go to a Russian individual or organization, following last year’s award to journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa of the Philippines.
The executive director of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, Oleksandra Romantsova, said winning the award was “unbelievable”.
“Great, thank you,” she told the secretary of the awards committee, Olav Njoelstad, in a phone call that was filmed and broadcast on Norwegian television.
The group also wrote on Twitter how proud it was.
The award for Byalyatski could help attract the attention of some 1,350 political prisoners in Belarus, exiled opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told Reuters.
“I am really proud to see Ales Byalyatski as the winner,” she said. “(He) has defended human rights all his life in our country.
“He was a prisoner for the second time, which shows how the regime continuously represses human rights defenders in Belarus.”
When Lukashenko’s security forces cracked down after the 2020 election, Byalyatski, founder of civil rights group Viasna, chose to stay in the country despite the high risk of arrest.
He was eventually arrested last July and charged with tax evasion, to which authorities recently added a new charge of making illegal money transfers.
He is in prison awaiting trial, and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted. He was previously jailed between 2011 and 2014.
He is the fourth person to win the Nobel Peace Prize while in custody, after Carl von Ossietzky of Germany in 1935, Liu Xiaobo of China in 2010 and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, who was under house arrest in 1991.
The award will be presented in Oslo on December 10.
(This story has been reworked to remove the costume in paragraph 1)