Belarus Catholic activist up for closed-door "politically motivated" trial

European diplomats in Belarus have condemned the trial of a Catholic activist in Minsk as “unfair” and “politically motivated.”

Uladzislau Beladzed’s trial began behind closed doors at Minsk City Court on Wednesday.

The 33-year-old Beladzed, who taught the catechism at the city’s Cathedral of the Holy Name of the Saint Virgin Mary, stands accused under four articles of Belarus’ criminal code, including “insulting the president” and “inciting social discord.”

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If found guilty, he faces up to five years of imprisonment.

Beladzed was an active participant in pro-opposition protests in Belarus in 2020, and was detained by police at rallies on several occasions. He went on to support the country’s movement for free elections, and, after the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, he publicly prayed for peace.

His case, which has dealt another crippling blow to Belarus’ beleaguered civil society, has provoked sharp criticism from Western diplomats.

European diplomats stood outside the courthouse where the trial was held on Wednesday, demanding an end to political repression in Belarus, and Beladzed’s release.

“The accusations brought against (Beladzed) are unfair. They are politically motivated. A representative of the German Embassy in Minsk, as well as representatives of other diplomatic missions, went to the courthouse today to express solidarity,” the German Embassy in Minsk said in a statement. “The German government demands the release of all political prisoners in Belarus.”

The national flag of the Republic of Belarus

The national flag of the Republic of Belarus as a participating country at the 12th St. Petersburg International Gas Forum (SPIGF 2023). (Photo by Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

There are 1,421 political prisoners behind bars in Belarus, according to human rights group Viasna, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski.

Belarus was rocked by mass protests following the contentious reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020 in an election that both the country’s opposition and the West condemned as rigged. The demonstrations saw Belarusian authorities detain more than 35,000 people, many of whom were tortured during detention and forced to flee the country after being labeled by officials as “extremists.”

During the protests, some Catholic and Protestant churches provided shelter and support to demonstrators.

About 80% of Belarus’ population of 9.5 million are Orthodox Christians. Around 14% are Catholics, living mainly in the country’s western, northern, and central regions, while a further 2% belong to Protestant churches.

Viasna previously reported that Beladzed has “serious health problems.” He was detained by police during a search of a church on May 31, and has since spent nine months behind bars.

Beladzed was also forced to film a video from his prison cell in which he said he was gay, “under obvious coercion,” Viasna said.

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“Uladzislau looks like a person who has been subjected to torture and inhumane treatment,” Viasna said in a statement. “But he retains moral strength.”

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