Belarus has become “a conveyor belt of torture against political prisoners,” where worker and human rights activists face daily raids, arrests and lengthy prison terms for fighting for democracy and the right to freedom of association, said the wife of a leading dissident last week. 

Natallia Pinchuk, whose husband is Nobel laureate and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, visited the Solidarity Center and spoke to staff about her husband’s imprisonment and the Belarus government’s repression of trade union activists. 

Known for his leadership of the Viasna Human Rights Center–which he founded in 1996 to support political prisoners and their families–Bialiatski is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence at a brutal penal colony in Horki for receiving international financial support for the organization. He was among a dozen activists the Belarus regime arrested in July 2021 during raids of activists’ homes and the offices of civil society organizations. 

“Ales represents the tragic situation of political prisoners in Belarus,” Pinchuk said. She added that the government imprisons 10 to 15 people every day, a considerable number for such a small country, and still conducts raids against and imprisons union activists.

Pinchuck said she has been unable to get information on Bialiatski’s condition since he was placed in solitary confinement in October. He is ill, requiring daily medication that Pinchuk cannot provide to him because political prisoners are prohibited from receiving outside materials. Compounding the situation, political prisoners face violence perpetrated by prison officials. 

“Political prisoners are beaten in showers. Other prisoners beat them regularly, and prison officials are instigating those beatings,” she said.

Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, has held power since 1994. In 1996, he changed the constitution to consolidate power in the office of the president, which sent thousands of Belarusians into the streets in protests that were violently suppressed. He later claimed a landslide victory in August 2020, sparking widespread claims of fraud and massive protests and strikes. Lukashenko’s regime responded to the 2020 protests with ruthless repression, leading to deaths, injuries and over 10,000 arrests. 

The International Trade Union Confederation has ranked Belarus among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers in its 2023 Global Rights Index, citing the forced dissolution of unions and targeted arrests and imprisonment of trade unionists. More than 30 trade union activists are imprisoned in Belarus because they fought for workers’ rights. Others, in danger and unable to work, live in exile abroad.

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the News from The Solidarity Center