Jailed Belarusian opposition leader held in solitary confinement for almost a year

Maria Kalesnikava, one of the jailed leaders of the 2020 anti-government protests in Belarus, has been held in solitary confinement for almost a year during which time she has been denied any contact with her family, the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty reported on Thursday.

Kalesnikava’s relatives received their last letter from her on 15 February 2023. Around this time, Kalesnikava was placed in a solitary confinement cell called a PKT, Radio Liberty wrote.

Law mandates that prisoners spend no more than six months in a PKT cell, but prison authorities reportedly flouted the rule by intermittently placing Kalesnikava in a punishment cell with even stricter conditions.

Inmates held in punishment cells are denied mattresses, blankets, pillows, bed linens, or warm clothing, a source told Radio Liberty.

A former prisoner at the Homyel women’s colony in southeastern Belarus, where Kalesnikava is believed to be held, told the outlet that Kalesnikava wore only a T-shirt and leggings while she was in the punishment cell, and that she had to sleep on bare boards. “Your joints hurt from the cold and damp,” the former prisoner said.

Kalesnikava, who had emergency medical surgery last year, reportedly still suffers from health problems and has lost a lot of weight. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison in September 2021 for being part of the Opposition Coordination Council, a body created in 2020 to oppose the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, and which the court called a “seizure of state power”.

After detaining her in September 2020, Belarusian security forces attempted to force Kalesnikava to leave the country by taking her to the Ukrainian border, where she destroyed her own passport and climbed out of the window in the car she was travelling in to avoid deportation.

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