MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The leading human rights group in authoritarian Belarus said Monday officials have evicted it from its office in the ex-Soviet nation's capital, following last years's imprisonment of its leader.
Ales Belyatsky was sentenced to 4½ years in jail last November on charges of tax evasion after a trial the West condemned as politically motivated. He has headed Vyasna, the ex-Soviet nation's most prominent rights group, since 1996.
Vyasna has provided legal assistance to thousands of Belarusians who were fined, arrested or imprisoned for criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko's authoritarian policies. Spokeswoman Tatyana Revyako said authorities confiscated a Minsk apartment that belonged to Belyatsky and forcibly removed Vyasna's office equipment from it.
"We will go on with human rights advocacy, even though we see what it leads to," she said. "Authorities will not frighten us." The group reported on irregularities in last December's presidential election and on the ensuing police crackdown on protests.
The election, in which Lukashenko won another term, was criticized by international observers and sparked a massive protest rally that was violently dispersed by police who arrested some 700 people, including seven of the nine presidential candidates.
Vyasna has since provided legal assistance to those arrested, helped them pay fines and offered help to their families. Lukashenko has ruled the nation of 10 million people since 1994. He has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in the West.