A prominent Belarusian opposition figure serving an 11-year prison sentence after leading mass street protests against President Alexander Lukashenko is in intensive care after surgery, an opposition spokesman said on Tuesday.
Maria Kolesnikova was taken to a hospital in the southeastern city of Gomel, placed in a surgical ward and later moved to the intensive care unit, Gleb Germanchuk, a spokesman for Kolesnikova, told CNN. She is in stable but “difficult condition, with some improvement,” he said.
Kolesnikova was placed in a “punishment cell” before her hospitalization because she was not at her “work place” at the prison when she was supposed to be there, Germanchuk said, citing her lawyer Vladimir Pilchenko.
Concerns for her welfare have grown since Pulchenko has not been able to see Kolesnikova in hospital. Her attorney was unable to reach her at the hospital because there were no doctors to release him by the time he arrived, Germanchuk said.
Her lawyer sent a number of complaints to prison officials about concerns about her health, Germanchuk said. Kolesnikova’s relatives cannot visit her in hospital because she is a prisoner, and the same restrictions apply to her hospital stay, Germanchuk said.
The United States Embassy in Minsk said Tuesday it was “closely following” reports of Kolesnikova’s “sudden hospitalization.”
“We hope she receives full and excellent medical care and a speedy recovery,” the US embassy tweeted. “The United States remains committed to accountability for regime officials who violate human rights.”
Kolesnikova, a musician turned activist, was one of three women who joined forces in 2020 to spearhead the opposition’s campaign against Lukashenko after prominent male opposition candidates were dropped from the presidential race.
The trio were the face of a protest movement that sent tens of thousands of Belarusians into the streets to demand political change during the country’s elections. Protesters, as well as independent observers, claimed the vote was rigged to extend Lukashenko’s 27-year rule.
President Lukashenko has denied election fraud and the authorities have responded to the protests with repression.
Kolesnikova was arrested in 2020 and taken to the border, where she was ordered to leave the country. Instead, she tore up her passport, refusing to be forced into exile.
In September 2021, she was charged with extremism and conspiracy to “seize state power in an unconstitutional manner” and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The US and several European countries condemned the court’s decision and called for Kolesnikova’s release.
As part of her time in prison, Kolesnikova had to do correctional work, which included sewing uniforms for the Belarusian army, Germanchuk said.