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Belarusian opposition leader receives anonymous note alleging husband’s death in prison

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Tuesday that she received an anonymous note alleging that her imprisoned husband, also an opposition figure, died behind bars.

Siarhei Tsikhanouski, 44, a popular blogger and opposition activist, was arrested in 2020 after announcing plans to run against Belarus’ authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, in presidential elections that year. His wife ran against Lukashenko in his stead after the arrest, rallying large crowds of people in her support across the country.

Official results of the election handed Lukashenko his sixth term in office but were denounced by the opposition and the West as fraudulent. Amid unprecedented protests that broke out in the aftermath of the vote, Tsikhanouskaya left the country under pressure from the authorities. Her husband was later sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots.

Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she hasn’t received any news from her husband since early March — letters to him are no longer being delivered, and his lawyer hasn’t been allowed to see him.

“I don’t know anything about him. I haven’t received a single letter, and there’s been no communication through his lawyer,” Tsikhanouskaya told the AP in written comments. She added that at the same time she doesn’t have any proof the claim in the anonymous note is true.

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Tsikhanouski is not the only imprisoned opposition figure whose fate is shrouded in mystery. It’s been 67 days since anyone heard anything from Viktar Babaryka, a former banker who also planned to run for president in 2020. His supporters worry that he was beaten up and put in a prison hospital. He was due to appear in court and testify in the trial of his son but missed the hearing.

It’s been over five months since any news emerged about Maria Kolesnikova, Babaryka’s campaign manager, who was also arrested in 2020 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. According to a recent statement by Amnesty International, Kolesnikova hasn’t been allowed to make phone calls, write letters or see her family or lawyers since mid-February.

Europe Fox News graphic

A Belarus opposition leader said an anonymous note alleged that her husband died in prison.  (Fox News)

Another opposition figure, Nikolai Statkevich, is serving a 14-year-sentence and hasn’t been heard from for 145 days.

“It’s a new deliberate policy by the authorities to keep opposition leaders in full information isolation,” Pavel Sapelko from Belarus’ prominent rights group Viasna told the AP. “It’s an attempt by the authorities to pressure not just political prisoners, who are being deprived of contact with the outside world and are held in horrible conditions, but their families, as well, who are forced to live without any information about their loved ones.”

The Belarusian authorities have not commented on the situation.

According to Viasna, a total of 1,501 political prisoners are currently behind bars in Belarus.

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