TALLINN – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski has been transferred to a notoriously brutal prison in Belarus and hasn't been heard from in a month, his wife said Wednesday.
Natalia Pinchuk told The Associated Press that Bialiatski, who is serving a 10-year sentence, has been kept in an information blackout since his transfer to the N9 colony for repeat offenders in the city of Gorki, where inmates are beaten and subject to hard labor.
“The authorities create unbearable conditions for Ales and keep him in strict informational isolation. There is not a single letter from him for a month, nor does he receive my letters,” Pinchuk said by telephone.
In March, a court convicted 60-year-old Bialiatski — Belarus’ top human rights advocate and one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize — and three of his colleagues on charges of financing actions violating public order and smuggling.
It was the latest move in a years-long crackdown on dissent that has engulfed the country since 2020.
Bialiatski has spent 20 months behind bars since his arrest in 2021, and Pinchuk is concerned his health is deteriorating.
“In the most recent letters I see how his penmanship has changed and I see how the situation is worsening for him, both in terms of his health and his eyesight, and I am very, very worried about it," she said. She urged the United Nations to intervene.
The harsh punishment of Bialiatski and three of his colleagues was a response to massive protests over a 2020 election that gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a further term in office.
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. During the protests in 2020, the largest ever in Belarus, more than 35,000 people were arrested, and thousands were beaten by police.
All four activists have maintained their innocence, according to the Human Rights Center Viasna, which was founded by Bialiatski. He shared the 2022 peace prize with Memorial, a prominent Russian human rights group, and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties.
Viasna has counted 1,516 political prisoners in Belarus to date. Human rights advocates say authorities deliberately create unbearable conditions for many of them.
For 28 days, there has been no information about the fate of the imprisoned former presidential hopeful Viktar Babaryka, who was reportedly beaten up in his cell and transferred to a hospital. No one has heard from Nikolai Statkevich, a prominent opposition figure serving a 14-year sentence, for 100 days.