Imprisoned Belarusian activist undergoes surgery

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A prominent member of the Belarusian opposition serving an 11-year prison sentence for helping stage anti-government protests had undergone an undisclosed surgical procedure, her father said Wednesday.

Alexander Kolesnikov said his daughter, Maria Kolesnikova, remains in emergency care and that a doctor told him her condition has improved. The doctor didn’t share her diagnosis or any details of the surgery with him, citing official instructions, Kolesnikov told The Associated Press.

He said a police officer was present during his conversation with the doctor. “They didn’t let me or her lawyer see Maria,” Kolesnikov said.

Kolesnikova, 40, has been in custody since September 2020, when she tore up her passport at the border to prevent her forced expulsion from Belarus amid massive protests challenging the reelection of the country’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko.

She was convicted in September 2021 on charges of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and calling for action that threatened the security of the state.

Her lawyer, Vladimir Pylchenko, said Kolesnikova had been placed in a cell at the prison in Homiel before being taken to the hospital in the southern Belarusian city. He said that authorities had repeatedly rejected his requests to see Kolesnikova at the prison.

Belarus was shaken by massive protests after the disputed August 2020 re-election of Lukashenko, which the opposition and the West denounced as a rigged sham. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Kolesnikova helped coordinate opposition protests and resisted authorities’ attempts to force her to leave the country. When officers of the Belarusian security agency drove her to the border with Ukraine in September 2020 to forcibly expel her, she ripped up her passport and walked back into Belarus to face arrest.

Amnesty International urged the Belarusian government to immediately disclose all information regarding Kolesnikova’s condition. “The secrecy that surrounds prisoners in Belarus is unacceptable,” Marie Struthers, the group’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

Struthers said Kolesnikova’s situation “once again demonstrates what a cruel and impenetrable system” Lukashenko has built “to punish those who dare to dissent or challenge his rule.”


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