Jailed Belarus Opposition Figure Maria Kolesnikova in Intensive Care - Opposition Spokesman

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The United States Embassy in Minsk said Tuesday it is “closely watching” reports of Kolesnikova’s “sudden hospitalisation”. “We hope she receives full and excellent medical care and recovers quickly,” it tweeted, adding that “The US remains committed to accountability for regime officials who violate human rights.”

A prominent jailed Belarusian opposition figure, Maria Kolesnikova, has been taken from prison and placed in intensive care in a hospital after undergoing surgery, an opposition spokesman said Tuesday.

Kolesnikova, who has been serving an 11-year prison sentence after leading mass street protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, was taken to a hospital in the southeastern city of Gomel, placed in a surgical ward, and later transferred to the intensive care unit, her spokesman Gleb Germanchuk said Tuesday.

According to Germanchuk, the 40-year-old opposition leader is in a stable but “difficult state, with some improvement.”

Kolesnikova’s father, Alexander Kolesnikov, who noted that his daughter looked energetic and cheerful when he last visited her in prison about a month ago, also confirmed that his daughter was in a grave but stable condition, adding that the doctors did not share her diagnosis or any other details with him about the surgery.

Citing her lawyer Vladimir Pylchenko, Germanchuk said Kolesnikova was placed in a “punishment cell” prior to her hospitalisation for not being at her prison “workplace” when she was supposed to be there.

Kolesnikova, a musician-turned-activist, was one of three women who led historic demonstrations against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in 2020 after prominent male opposition candidates were barred from the presidential race.

She, with Veronika Tsepkalo and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, sent tens of thousands of Belarusians onto the streets to demand political change during the presidential election. The demonstrators, as well as independent observers, alleged that the vote was rigged to extend Lukashenko’s 27-year rule.

President Lukashenko denied electoral fraud and authorities responded to the protests with a crackdown, which led to thousands of arrests and the forced exile or imprisonment of activists and journalists.

In September 2020, Belarus’ KGB security service drove Kolesnikova to the Ukrainian border, after putting a sack over her head and pushing her into a minibus. She was ordered to leave Belarus, but at the frontier she ripped up her passport, refusing to be forced into exile.

In September 2021, Kolesnikova was charged with extremism and conspiring to “seize state power in an unconstitutional way,” and sentenced to 11 years in prison. She is the only one of the three women still in Belarus.

“What terrible news. Our dear Masha, we all hope that you will be alright!” said Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the opposition in exile.