Nobel laureate Bialiatski's condition has worsened after 1,000 days in Belarusian prison, his wife says

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize laureate and activist Ales Bialiatski marked his 1,000th day in prison in Belarus on Tuesday amid increasing fears about his deteriorating health, his wife said.

Natalia Pinchuk told The Associated Press that Bialiatski has remained in solitary confinement for the past half year despite his chronic illnesses.

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“I have learned from people who left the prison that Ales’ condition is continuing to worsen and he’s not receiving certain medicines that he needs,” Pinchuk said.

Belarus-Crackdown

Ales Bialiatski, the head of Belarusian Viasna rights group, stands in a defendants’ cage during a court session in Minsk, Belarus, on Nov. 2, 2011. In an open letter, 27 Nobel laureates have demanded the release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including Ales Bialiatski, the winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel laureates said the situation in Belarus is a “humanitarian catastrophe” and called for an immediate end to political repression in the country of 9.5 million people.  ( AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

She urged the United Nations to “act more actively” to help the 61-year-old Bialiatski, who is serving a 10-year sentence linked to his human rights activities, and other political prisoners in Belarus.

Bialiatski is Belarus’ top human rights advocate and one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, founding the Human Rights Center Viasna, Belarus’ most prominent human rights group. Viasna has been branded an extremist organization by Belarusian authorities.

Bialiatski was convicted in March 2023 with several colleagues on charges of financing actions violating public order and smuggling, accusations he denied.

The arrests came as part of a sweeping crackdown that followed protests over a 2020 election that extended authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule and were seen by the opposition and many in the West as a sham.

The protests were the largest ever in Belarus. More than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten by police. Lukashenko, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Bialiatski has been serving his sentence at a prison colony for repeat offenders in the city of Gorki. The facility is known for inmates being beaten and subjected to hard labor.

Pinchuk said that for the past half year, Bialiatski has been held in a punishment cell that she described as a “prison within prison.”

“The prison colony in Gorki has an awful reputation, and human rights defenders know it serves as a conveyor belt for tormenting political prisoners,” she said.

Pinchuk added that prison officials tightened control over Bialiatski’s correspondence and currently only allow him to send postcards “saying tersely that he’s still alive.”

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

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

Also Tuesday, a Belarusian opposition activist was convicted and sentenced to 10 years on charges related to his support for Ukraine.

Ivan Sukhamerau has been in custody since he was arrested in June 2023 while trying to cross the border into Ukraine.

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

Viasna said 1,671 Belarusians have been detained for opposing the Russian war in Ukraine, and 94 of them were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from one to 23 years.

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Belarusian authorities on Tuesday also opened a criminal probe against Bazhena Zholudz, a Belarusian activist who heads the Kyiv-based Belarusian House, a nongovernmental organization that helps Belarusians who fled political repression at home.

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

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