Maria Kolesnikova, leader of the protest movement and political prisoner in Belarus, is in the intensive care unit of a hospital. The way you got there and the background to it raise numerous questions.

Only on Tuesday did it become known that Maria Kolesnikova was in the intensive care unit and had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance the day before directly from a prison in Gomel, Belarus. “Doctors say Maria was brought in in serious condition. It is unclear when she got sick. Her lawyer has not been allowed to see her since November 17,” Maria’s sister Tatjana Chomitsch told DW.

In the summer of 2020, 40-year-old Kolesnikova was one of the three leaders of the protest movement against ruler Alexander Lukashenko, who had previously had the presidential elections rigged in his favor.

The opposition demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the regime in Belarus, after which Kolesnikova’s comrades-in-arms Veronika Zepkalo and Svetlana Tichanovskaya left the country. But Kolesnikova stayed. Lukashenko had them abducted and taken to the Ukrainian border to be thrown out of the country. There, however, she tore up her passport and was imprisoned in Belarus. In 2021, a court sentenced her to eleven years in prison.

Most recently, on November 29, Maria Kolesnikova’s lawyer tried to visit her in prison. However, he was denied this. He was not told that his client was no longer in her cell. “Shortly thereafter, I received an unofficial tip that Maria is in a hospital in Gomel. We only found out that she was taken to the surgery,” says Tatjana Chomitsch.

More details are not known to this day. It only leaked out that Maria underwent surgery on the day of admission. On November 30, neither Maria’s lawyer nor her father were allowed to visit her in the hospital. However, her father managed to talk to the doctors treating her.

“The entire conversation took place in the presence of Interior Ministry officials. Doctors said the operation went according to plan and was successful. But Maria is still in a serious condition. But she is conscious, receiving the necessary treatment and medication. However, Maria’s father was not told the diagnosis. Allegedly, she had to agree in writing that the relevant data could be released. We have no confirmed information as to why the surgery was necessary. I learned from several sources that Maria allegedly has a perforated ulcer,” the sister said. According to her, Maria had not complained about any corresponding health problems.

It had already become known on November 22 that Maria had to spend ten days in a solitary cell with minimal equipment. “Political prisoners are currently under particular pressure. They don’t even have a toothbrush, no sheets. There is no bed, just a board that is attached to the wall during the day. In fact, the prisoners have to stand all day. They are not given books and are not allowed to make phone calls. Maria’s lawyer was told she had not requested a visit from him. But she has neither paper nor a pen to be able to submit such an application,” said Tatjana about the regime’s dealings with members of the opposition.

Maria’s lawyer expressed concerns about his client’s health in his complaints to the prosecutor’s office and the prison authorities. But there was no reaction.

Now Maria’s relatives are trying to find out what happened to her and what her condition was last in detention. “We want official information from the doctors. We are aware that they are now under a lot of pressure. Of course, it’s important that they give her as much attention as possible,” says Tatjana.

“We demand that Maria’s relatives, lawyers and foreign diplomats have access to her to make sure that she is alive and receiving the necessary treatment,” says Franak Viacorka, a confidant of Svetlana, a Belarusian opposition figure living in exile in Lithuania Tikhanovskaya. According to him, there are reports from eyewitnesses who witnessed the torture of political prisoners. For example, prisoners in Belarus have to sit and freeze in cold rooms. ”Besides, they get beaten. Belarusian prisons are not governed by the law, but by complete arbitrariness,” Viacorka said.

The news about Maria Kolesnikova appeared on the front pages of many newspapers and also at the top of numerous web portals. The European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the US State Department and the German Foreign Office all reacted to the reports on Kolesnikova’s health.

In the meantime, Maria’s fellow campaigners Svetlana Tichanowskaja and Veronika Zepkalo have also spoken out. “There is terrible news. Our dear Masha, we all hope that everything will be fine with you,” writes Tichanovskaya. She calls on the Belarusians to pass on information from the hospital in Gomel in order to prevent the regime of ruler Alexander Lukashenko from covering up the case.

“Dear Maria, there are no words to describe what I feel about you after hearing the news. What had to happen in solitary confinement to get you straight from there to the intensive care unit,” writes Veronika Zepkalo on social networks. She asks the international community to “isolate Lukashenko from the Belarusians.” “What else has to happen in Belarus for help to come? Masha, I really hope that you will feel better soon and everything will be fine. I’m with you,” Zepkalo said.

Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk

Author: Elena Doronina

The original for this post “Kolesnikova in the intensive care unit: under state control” comes from Deutsche Welle.