Belarus activist Ales Belyatski jailed for tax evasion

Ales Belyatski sits in a cage in court in Minsk, 24 November 2011 Mr Belyatski said the case had been politically motivated

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One of Belarus' most prominent human rights activists has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for tax evasion.

Ales Belyatski runs Viasna (Spring), a group which monitors the government's activities against opposition figures.

He was arrested in August after the authorities discovered that he held bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania.

Mr Belyatski said the case had been politically motivated.

Viasna has been following Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's ongoing clampdown against the country's opposition.

Calls for release

Mr Belyatski was charged with tax evasion after Polish and Lithuanian authorities supplied Belarusian officials with his bank details.

The governments of both countries later apologised.

Mr Belyatski said the accounts were necessary for his organisation because the Belarus government prevented him from holding money inside the country.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule issued a joint statement calling for the immediate release of Mr Belyatski.

Mr Belyatski's lawyer said he would appeal against the verdict.

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