Belarusian Opposition Leader Maria Kolesnikova Marks 42nd Birthday in Prison

Prominent Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova marks her 42nd birthday in prison, as the country's crackdown on dissent continues. Her family fears for her deteriorating health and lack of medical care.

Hadeel Hashem
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Belarusian Opposition Leader Maria Kolesnikova Marks 42nd Birthday in Prison

Belarusian Opposition Leader Maria Kolesnikova Marks 42nd Birthday in Prison

Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent Belarusian opposition figure, celebrated her 42nd birthday on Wednesday while serving an 11-year prison sentence for her role in organizing anti-government protests in 2020. Kolesnikova has been held incommunicado for 434 days, with her family last hearing from her in February 2023.

Kolesnikova's sister, Tatsiana Khomich, expressed deep concern for her well-being, stating that her health is deteriorating and the family is unsure if she is receiving any medical treatment. "Maria has been in complete isolation since March 2023, and information about her only becomes available if another inmate is placed in the cell next to her," Khomich said.

The opposition leader, known for her vibrant smile and forming a heart with her hands at demonstrations, underwent abdominal surgery in 2022 but was quickly transported back to prison. She is among 93 political prisoners in Belarus with severe medical problems who could be close to death, according to the country's leading human rights group, Viasna.

Belarus has been rocked by mass protests since the 2020 election, which was widely seen as fraudulent. Authorities have arrested over 35,000 people and given long prison terms to many opposition leaders, while others have fled the country. Viasna has counted a total of 1,401 political prisoners in Belarus, including its founder, Ales Bialiatski, who won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

Why this matters: The ongoing imprisonment and mistreatment of political dissidents in Belarus highlight the country's deteriorating human rights situation under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko. The international community continues to call for the release of all political prisoners and for free and fair elections in Belarus.

Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania, called for solidarity with Kolesnikova on her birthday. "If the regime is not at war against women, then how come Maria Kolesnikova has spent her birthday in prison for the fourth year?" Tsikhanouskaya said. The article also mentions that veteran Belarusian politician Zianon Pazniak celebrated his birthday while Kolesnikova remains imprisoned, further highlighting the ongoing crackdown on dissent in the country.

Key Takeaways

  • Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova, 42, imprisoned for 11 years
  • Kolesnikova held incommunicado for 434 days, family unsure of her health
  • Belarus has 93 political prisoners with severe medical issues, close to death
  • Over 35,000 arrested, many opposition leaders imprisoned or fled Belarus
  • International calls for release of political prisoners, free and fair elections