Nobel laureate’s health worsens after 1,000 days in Belarusian prison, wife says

April 10, 2024 by No Comments

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize laureate and activist Ales Bialiatski, who has spent 1,000 days in prison in Belarus, is reportedly enduring worsening health conditions, his wife said Tuesday.

Natalia Pinchuk told The Associated Press that Bialiatski has been in solitary confinement for the past six months despite suffering from chronic illnesses.

“From people who have left the prison, I have learned that Ales’ condition continues to deteriorate, and he’s not getting the medications he needs,” Pinchuk said.

She called on the international community to “do more” to support the 61-year-old Bialiatski, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his human rights activism, and other political prisoners in Belarus.

Bialiatski is Belarus’ leading human rights advocate and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. He founded the Human Rights Center Viasna, the country’s most prominent human rights group, which has been labeled an extremist organization by Belarusian authorities.

In March 2023, Bialiatski and several colleagues were convicted on charges of financing actions that violated public order and smuggling, allegations they denied.

Their arrests were part of a crackdown on dissent following the 2020 presidential election, which authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have won in a vote that the opposition and many Western nations denounced as a sham.

The protests that followed were the largest in Belarus’ history, with more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Lukashenko, a longtime ally of Russia who has supported its invasion of Ukraine, has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Bialiatski is serving his sentence at a prison colony for repeat offenders in the city of Gorki, which is notorious for inmate beatings and forced labor.

Pinchuk said Bialiatski has been held in a punishment cell for the past six months, which she described as a “prison within a prison.”

“The prison colony in Gorki has a terrible reputation, and human rights defenders know that it’s a conveyor belt for tormenting political prisoners,” she said.

Pinchuk added that prison officials have tightened restrictions on Bialiatski’s correspondence, only allowing him to send postcards that “say very little beyond the fact that he’s alive.”

Last month, 27 Nobel laureates signed an open letter demanding the release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including Bialiatski, and described the situation in the country as a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Belarus currently has nearly 1,400 political prisoners, according to Viasna.

Also on Tuesday, Belarusian opposition activist Ivan Sukhamerau was sentenced to 10 years in prison for supporting Ukraine.

Sukhamerau has been in custody since June 2023, when he was arrested while attempting to cross the border into Ukraine.

The court in the city of Homel convicted Sukhamerau of treason and involvement in a “terrorist organization,” charges that stemmed from his donations to a Belarusian unit fighting alongside Ukrainian forces and his alleged plans to join it.

Viasna reported that 1,671 Belarusians have been detained for opposing the Russian war in Ukraine, and 94 of them have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 23 years.

On Tuesday, Belarusian authorities initiated a criminal investigation against Bazhena Zholudz, a Belarusian activist who leads the Kyiv-based Belarusian House, a non-governmental organization that provides assistance to Belarusians who have fled political repression in their home country.

Zholudz’s partner, Vital Shyshou, who previously led the Belarusian House, was found dead in a Kyiv park. An official investigation into his death is underway.