A prominent Belarusian opposition figure who is serving an 11-year sentence after leading mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko is in intensive care after undergoing 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 transferred to intensive care, 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 for not being at her “workplace” in prison when she was supposed to be there, Germanchuk said, citing her lawyer Vladimir Pylchenko.
Concerns for her well-being are growing as Pylchenko was unable to see Kolesnikova in the hospital. Her lawyer could not reach her at the hospital because when he arrived there were no doctors left to let him in, Germanchuk said.
Her attorney sent a series of appeals to prison officials over concerns about her health, Germanchuk said. Kolesnikova’s relatives cannot visit her in the hospital because she is a prisoner, and the same restrictions apply to her hospitalization, Germanchuk said.
The United States Embassy in Minsk said Tuesday it was “closely monitoring” reports of Kolesnikova’s “sudden hospitalization.”
“We hope she receives comprehensive and excellent medical care and makes a speedy recovery,” the US embassy tweeted. “The US 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 lead the opposition’s campaign against Lukashenko after prominent male opposition candidates were barred from running for the presidency.
The trio were the face of a protest movement that sent tens of thousands of Belarusians onto the streets to demand political change during the country’s elections. The protesters, as well as independent observers, claimed the vote was rigged to extend Lukashenko’s 27-year rule.
President Lukashenko denied electoral fraud and the authorities responded to the protests with a crackdown.
Kolesnikova was arrested in 2020 and taken to the border where she was ordered to leave the country. Instead, she reportedly tore up her passport and refused to be forced into exile.
She was charged with extremism and conspiracy to “seize state power in an unconstitutional manner” in September 2021 and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The US and several European countries have condemned the court’s verdict and called for Kolesnikova’s release.
As part of her prison stay, Kolesnikova had to do prison work, which included sewing uniforms for the Belarusian army, Germanchuk said.