Belarusian authorities are depriving Nobel Peace Prize laureate of medicine in jail, his wife says

TALLINN, Estonia — (AP) — The wife of an imprisoned Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize laureate said Wednesday that the country's authorities are depriving her husband of medicine as his health deteriorates.

The 61-year-old pro-democracy activist, Ales Bialiatski, is serving a 10-year prison sentence. He suffers from a number of serious chronic illnesses that have worsened during his three years behind bars, his family says.

The family has been trying to supply him with medicine, but Belarusian authorities are refusing to pass it on to him, his wife, Natalia Pinchuk, told The Associated Press.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for information from the AP.

Bialiatski was detained in the aftermath of mass protests following an election in 2020 that gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. The election was widely viewed as rigged by Western leaders and many Belarusians, triggering mass protests in the eastern European nation.

Lukashenko, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994. During the 2020 protests, the largest in Belarus' history, more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten by police. The crackdown on dissent continues four years on.

Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 but that did not lead to an improvement in his detention conditions.

In March 2023, a court found Bialiatski and three of his colleagues at the Viasna Human Rights Center guilty of smuggling and financing actions which violate public order.

There are 1,405 political prisoners behind bars in Belarus, according to Viasna. Human rights activists claim that Belarusian authorities are deliberately creating unbearable conditions for many of them, depriving them of medical care, communication with loved ones and lawyers. At least six political prisoners have died behind bars.

Bialiatski is being held in a prison where prisoners are beaten and subjected to hard labor, according to Viasna. He is not allowed to receive correspondence from relatives and friends, nor call them on the phone. Occasionally his supporters receive letters and postcards from him.

“The authorities have created unbearable conditions for Ales in prison; he is being kept in an information vacuum,” Pinchuk said, adding that it is clear from Bialiatski's rare letters to her that he is not getting her letters or letters from other people.

Pinchuk said Bialiatski had previously been held in solitary confinement and is now forced to perform hard labor. He is often punished by being placed in a punishment cell for several days, she said, adding he goes through “all the circles of hell that thousands of Belarusian political prisoners go through in prison.”

At the beginning of the month, Lukashenko announced an amnesty for the seriously ill, releasing 18 political prisoners, including Ryhor Kastusiou, who is suffering from a severe form of cancer.

Pinchuk said she did not expect Lukashenko to release Bialiatski.

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