21 May: PEN International, the literary and free expression organisation, has released a letter signed by 103 Nobel Laureates, expressing solidarity with writer, human rights defender, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and PEN member Ales Bialiatski, and condemning the Belarusian authorities’ brutal, relentless, and systematic crackdown on independent voices. Today marks the International Day of Solidarity with Prisoners of Conscience in Belarus. The solidarity action was featured in the Guardian.
We, the undersigned Nobel Laureates, call for the immediate and unconditional release of our colleague – writer, human rights defender, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and PEN member Ales Bialiatski.
Ales Bialiatski has devoted his life to the promotion of democracy and human rights in Belarus. He has dared to hold President Aliaksandr Lukašenka accountable for his brutal, relentless, and systematic crackdown on independent voices. For this, he is paying the heaviest price: ten years in prison on spurious grounds.
Bialiatski is a symbol of hope and an inspiration to human rights defenders around the world, who should be celebrated as such. Instead, he finds himself behind bars, alongside five members of the Human Rights Centre Viasna (‘Spring’), which he founded with the very purpose of supporting those harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities.
In December 2022, Bialiatski was barred from delivering his acceptance speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, where he was hailed as a beacon of light for the region, and beyond.
The world deserves to hear Bialiatski’s voice.
We stand with Bialiatski and fellow members of Viasna – Marfa Rabkova, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Andrei Chapiuk – and call for their convictions to be overturned as a matter of urgency, and their sentences to be annulled.
We stand with the multitude of writers, journalists, cultural workers, human rights defenders, and citizens of Belarus who are serving lengthy prison terms merely for peacefully expressing their views and speaking truth to power.
We stand with the fearless people of Belarus who continue to fight for their human rights.
In the words of Bialiatski – we, too, believe, because we know that spring always comes after winter.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry Laureates: Peter Agre (2003), Thomas R. Cech (1989), Martin Chalfie (2008), Emmanuelle Charpentier (2020), Aaron Ciechanover (2004), Elias James Corey (1990), Johann Deisenhofer (1988), Jacques Dubochet (2017), Joachim Frank (2017), Alan Heeger (2000), Richard Henderson (2017), Dudley R. Herschbach (1986), Roald Hoffmann (1981), Robert Huber (1988), Martin Karplus (2013), Brian K. Kobilka (2012), Roger D. Kornberg (2006), Yuan T. Lee (1986), Robert J. Lefkowitz (2012), Jean-Marie Lehn (1987), Hartmut Michel (1988), John C. Polanyi (1986), Jean-Pierre Sauvage (2016), Richard R. Schrock (2005), Arieh Warshel (2013), M. Stanley Whittingham (2019).
Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences Laureates: Esther Duflo (2019), Oliver Hart (2016), Guido W. Imbens (2021), Finn E. Kydland (2004), Eric S. Maskin (2007), Paul R. Milgrom (2020), Edmund S. Phelps (2006), Alvin E. Roth (2012), Vernon L. Smith (2002), Joseph E. Stiglitz (2001).
Nobel Prize in Literature Laureates: Svetlana Alexievich (2015), J. M. Coetzee (2003), Annie Ernaux (2022), Louise Gluck (2020), Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021), Kazuo Ishiguro (2017), Elfriede Jelinek (2004), Patrick Modiano (2014), Herta Muller (2009), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Wole Soyinka (1986), Olga Tokarczuk (2018), Mario Vargas Llosa (2010).
Nobel Prize in Medicine Laureates: Harvey J. Alter (2020), J. Michael Bishop (1989), Elizabeth H. Blackburn (2009), Mario R. Capecchi (2007), Andrew Z. Fire (2006), Carol W. Greider (2009), Jeffrey Connor Hall (2017), Harald zur Hausen (2008), Jules A. Hoffmann (2011), Tasuku Honjo (2018), Sir Michael Houghton (2020), Tim Hunt (2001), Louis J. Ignarro (1998), Eric R. Kandel (2000), Barry J. Marshall (2005), Craig C. Mello (2006), Edvard Moser (2014), May-Britt Moser (2014), Erwin Neher (1991), Sir Paul M. Nurse (2001), Stanley B. Prusiner (1997), Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe (2019), Charles M. Rice (2020), Sir Richard J. Roberts (1993), Michael Rosbash (2017), James E. Rothman (2013), Gregg L. Semenza (2019), Hamilton O. Smith (1978), Harold E. Varmus (1989), Eric F. Wieschaus (1995), Torsten N. Wiesel (1981).
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Shirin Ebadi (2003), Dmitry Muratov (2021), Maria Ressa (2021), Oscar Arias Sanchez (1987), Juan Manuel Santos (2016).
Nobel Prize in Physics Laureates: Barry Clark Barish (2017), Albert Fert (2007), Jerome I. Friedman (1990), John L. Hall (2005), Serge Haroche (2012), Takaaki Kajita (2015), Wolfgang Ketterle (2001), Anthony J. Leggett (2003), John C. Mather (2006), Michel Mayor (2019), Konstantin Novoselov (2010), Roger Penrose (2020), William D. Phillips (1997), H. David Politzer (2004), Horst L. Stormer (1998), Kip Stephen Thorne (2017), Daniel C. Tsui (1998), Robert Woodrow Wilson (1978).
With special thanks to J.M Coetzee and Sir Richard J. Roberts.
On 14 July 2021, Ales Bialiatski was detained alongside several Viasna colleagues following raids by Belarusian law enforcement officers on more than a dozen civil society and human rights organisations. He was transferred to pre-trial detention on 17 July on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. He was subsequently charged with smuggling (Article 228.4 of the Belarusian Criminal Code) and organising and financing actions that grossly violate public order (Article 342.2 of the Belarusian Criminal Code). In December 2022, Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties – a fitting tribute to their fearless work. Bialiatski was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 3 March 2023, alongside Viasna Board Member Valiantsin Stefanovich and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich – who were sentenced to nine years and seven years in prison, respectively. Bialiatski was first jailed in 2011, spending 1052 days behind bars.
The crisis in Belarus that broke out in 2020 shows no signs of abating, as the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remain under sustained onslaught. The Belarusian authorities have responded with brutality and repression against critics and moved to ‘purge’ civil society, notably dissolving PEN Belarus in August 2021. Scores of independent publishing houses have been raided for promoting books by Belarusian writers and in Belarusian language, and their activities suspended under far-fetched pretences. PEN Belarus documented 1390 cultural and human rights violations against cultural figures in 2022 alone. In December 2022, PEN Belarus notably published a book about Ales Bialiatski, featuring his writings.