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Ales Bialiatski pictured waving in November 2021EPA

The trial of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist Ales Bialiatski has begun in Belarus.

Mr Bialiatski, 60, was arrested in anti-government protests in 2021, and his supporters say that Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime is trying to silence him.

He is accused of smuggling cash to fund opposition activity, according to the Viasna (Spring) Human Rights Centre, which Bialiatski founded.

He faces up to 12 years in prison.

He was arrested in 2021 following massive street protests over widely disputed elections that kept Mr Lukashenko in power the previous year.

Demonstrators were met with brutality by the police and critics of Mr Lukashenko were regularly arrested and jailed during the protests, which started in 2020.

Mr Bialiatski, who was one of three winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, has been held without trial since his arrest.

He is now in court alongside two fellow campaigners, Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich.

Viasna tweeted photos on Thursday that appeared to show Mr Bialiatski in the courtroom.

The organisation said he and his fellow defendants faced between seven and 12 years in prison.

The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said when awarding the 2022 prize that “government authorities have repeatedly sought to silence” Mr Bialiatski.

“Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus,” she added at the time.

Shortly before his arrest in 2021, Mr Bialiatski wrote on his Facebook page that the Belarusian authorities “are acting as a regime of occupation”.

“Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across all of Belarus, and hundreds [of them are] detained,” he wrote.

Mr Bialiatski set up Viasna in 1996 in response to the brutal crackdown of street protests in that year by Mr Lukashenko, who has been president of Belarus since the office was established in 1994.

The organisation supported jailed demonstrators and their families, and documented how the authorities tortured political prisoners.

He was jailed for three years in 2011 after being convicted on tax evasion charges, which he denied.

Mr Lukashenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, rules Belarus with an iron fist, and has in the past been described in the West as Europe’s last dictator.

He has allowed Mr Putin to launch missile attacks from Belarus as part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He has also allowed Russia to send troops to Belarus and has been sanctioned for his role in the invasion.

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