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Belarusian authorities deprive Nobel Peace Prize winner of right to medical care in prison, says his wife

By YURAS KARMANAU

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — The wife of a jailed Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize winner said Wednesday that the country’s authorities are depriving her husband of access to medicine because of his deteriorating health.

Pro-democracy activist Ales Bialatski, 61, is serving a 10-year sentence. He suffers from a number of serious chronic illnesses that have worsened during the three years he has spent behind bars, his family says.

His wife, Natalia Pinchuk, told the Associated Press that his family had tried to provide him with medicine, but Belarusian authorities refused to give it to him.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to AP’s request for information.

Bialiatski was detained following mass protests following the 2020 election that gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. The election was widely seen as rigged by Western leaders and many Belarusians, sparking mass protests in the Eastern European country.

Lukashenko, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994. More than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police during the 2020 protests, the largest in Belarus’ history. A crackdown on opposition has been ongoing for four years.

Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, but this did not improve the conditions of his detention.

In March 2023, the court found Bialiatski and three of his associates from the Viasna Human Rights Center guilty of smuggling and financing activities that violate public order.

According to Viasna, there are 1,405 political prisoners behind bars in Belarus. Human rights activists say that the Belarusian authorities deliberately create 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 or call them. Sometimes his supporters receive letters and postcards from him.

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

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

Earlier this month, Lukashenko announced an amnesty for the seriously ill, releasing 18 political prisoners, including Ryhor Kastusiou, who suffers from a severe form of cancer.

Pinchuk said she did not expect Lukashenko to release Bialiatski.