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27 Nobel laureates demand the release of political prisoners in Belarus

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — In an open letter, 27 Nobel laureates have demanded the release of all political prisoners in Belarus including Ales Bialiatski, the winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel laureates said the situation in Belarus is a “humanitarian catastrophe” and called for an immediate end to political repression in the country of 9.5 million people, which is isolated in Europe but a close ally of neighboring Russia.

“Over the past four years, more than 50,000 people have been subjected to political repression in Belarus, hundreds of thousands of citizens have been forced to leave the country, and thousands of people have been tortured”, the open letter signed by the laureates and published online says.

They include journalists, academics, doctors, musicians, students and defenders of human rights.

Bialiatski, 61, was arrested after an unprecedented wave of mass demonstrations against the disputed result of a presidential election in 2020. In 2022, while in custody awaiting trial, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The following year he was convicted of financing actions violating public order and smuggling and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

His wife, Natalia Pinchuk, told The Associated Press that Bialiatski has been in solitary confinement for more than six months in conditions she described as “torture.”

The letter was signed by four Nobel peace laureates including Dmitry Muratov from Russia and Alexandra Matviichuk from Ukraine. It was also signed by literature laureates including Svetlana Alexievich from Belarus as well as 19 others who hold prizes in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine and economics.

“In recent decades, Europe has not seen a humanitarian catastrophe related to political repression on such a per capita scale as in Belarus,” activist Dmitry Bolkunets said in a letter posted on his website. He is in exile in Warsaw.

Today there are 1,411 political prisoners behind bars in Belarus, says the human rights group Viasna. The prisoners families’ and rights groups say they are kept in conditions akin to torture and are deprived of medical care.

Belarusian authorities have been accused of keeping opposition leaders in complete isolation and of depriving them of communication with their lawyers and relatives.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told AP she has not heard from her imprisoned husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski for more than a year, a form of torture for both of them, she said. For more than a year there also has been no information from opposition activists Viktar Babaryka, Maria Kolesnikova, Maxim Znak and Mikola Statkevich.

There are reports on almost a daily basis from human rights activists about the arrest of activists, journalists, and lawyers as well as police raids inside Belarus.

The Nobel laureates are calling on all European Union governments to take immediate action to pressure the government of President Alexander Lukashenko to stop the “brutal repression” in Belarus and release all political prisoners.

The letter calls on Poland, as Belarus’s largest western neighbor, to exert its influence by suspending the rail transport of goods to the EU from Belarus, including shipments in transit from Russia and China.

“The commercial interests that European countries have cannot outweigh the issues of their national security and their duty to save innocent people being victimized in Belarus,” the letter says.

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