By Mark Trevelyan
LONDON (Reuters) – The wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Byalyatski said on Friday that he may not even know of the news, which she tried to break to him in a telegram to a Belarusian prison.
Natallia Pinchuk told Reuters she had not seen her husband, a leading human rights activist, since he was arrested last year. He is only the fourth person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in detention.
“It’s pleasant news and very unexpected. There was absolutely nothing to suggest this could happen,” she said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location.
“I sent him a telegram today, I think I wasn’t the only one. Maybe they’ll give him these telegrams and he’ll get the information and find out about this, I hope so.”
State media made no mention of the prize in Belarus. Authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, has jailed or forced into exile all leading opposition figures in a crackdown following a 2020 election that they accused him of stealing.
Byalyatski chose to stay as others fled.
“He knew all the risks, he was very well aware. There were suggestions he should leave. His colleagues were arrested. And he said on principle he was responsible for them and he couldn’t leave in view of this grave situation,” Pinchuk said.
“How could he leave when they were locked up?”
FACES UP TO 12 YEARS’ JAIL
Byalyatski, 60, was eventually detained in July last year on what the opposition calls trumped-up accusations including tax evasion. He is in prison awaiting trial, facing up to 12 years if convicted.
Pinchuk said she did not know how he was bearing up.
“It’s hard for me to say because he doesn’t write about this in his letters, I think he doesn’t want to upset me and doesn’t want to talk about that. In any case he always says he’s fine. It’s hard to say what’s behind that ‘fine’,” she said.
Pinchuk said she was not at home when the news broke, and missed a number of phone calls and messages until a friend finally managed to reach her.
“Then I saw these missed calls and text messages but the sun was reflecting off the screen and I didn’t have my glasses and I couldn’t read anything. On the way I started picking up calls but it was very hard to hear because of the car noise.”
Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called for the release of Byalyatski and other political prisoners, but Pinchuk was reluctant to speak about what might happen next.
“We all have very secret hopes and are afraid to say them aloud in case the opposite happens.”
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)