Nearly 100 Belarus political prisoners have severe medical problems, rights group says

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Nearly 100 political prisoners in Belarus, incarcerated in a severe crackdown on dissent, have severe medical problems and could be close to death, the country's respected human rights group Viasna said Monday.

Viasna, whose Nobel Peace Prize-winning founder Ales Bialiatski is among those imprisoned in the crackdown, identified 93 prisoners of particular concern who are suffering from cancer, heart disease and other conditions that are being neglected or poorly treated behind bars.

“In captivity, every disease progresses faster, in addition to the lack of qualified medical care," said Viasna representative Pavel Sapelka. "This is influenced by the conditions of detention — lack of fresh air, poor nutrition, constant psychological pressure and stress.”

Belarus started a harsh crackdown on opposition after large protests arose across the country following August 2020 elections who disputed results gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

Human rights activists count some 35,000 people detained in the crackdown, many of whom were beaten by police. All significant opposition figures have been imprisoned or have fled the country.

Viasna says more than 1,400 political prisoners are now behind bars.

Among the cases cited by Viasna in the report is that of Maria Kolesnikova, who was one of the most prominent leaders of the post-election protests. She underwent abdominal surgery but was quickly transported back to prison. Viasna said her dietary needs are not being observed and said investigation found that she was beaten prior to being hospitalized.

Other cases the group noted included 19-year-old Mikita Zalatarou, who reportedly is being denied pills to control his epilepsy, and Yauhen Barouski, who told his family while ill that “I'm probably just going to die here.”