Political activist and journalist dies in Belarus prison

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A Belarusian political activist jailed for “defamation” against President Alexander Lukashenko has died in prison, his political party said on Tuesday.

“Igor Lednik, a former member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, activist and journalist, has died in prison at the age of 64,” the political organization said on Telegram -- a report confirmed by human rights NGO Viasna.

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Lednik was arrested in 2022 and sentenced to three years in prison for “defamation” of the Belarusian president in an article in the Social Democrats’ newspaper.

In prison, his health had “deteriorated considerably,” the party said.

Lednik had suffered from a heart condition and had undergone surgery for a gastrointestinal issue. However, the party did not say whether this was the cause of death nor specify the exact date.

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanoskaya blamed the authorities for Lednik’s death, called it “an injustice and an unbelievable tragedy.”

“The regime kills in prison Belarusians who wanted to change life in their country for the better,” she wrote on Telegram.

Last month another opposition figure, Vadzim Khrasko, died of pneumonia in a penal colony. Human rights groups said he had not received necessary medical care in jail.

The Belarusian authorities have cracked down on opponents of Lukashenko -- in power since 1994 -- after mass protests erupted in the wake of a 2020 presidential election the West says he stole.

According to Viasna, there are now more than 1,400 political prisoners in Belarus.

In January, the West condemned Belarus for a series of raids where rights groups claimed more than 150 people were detained or interrogated by the security service.

The crackdown means there will be no meaningful opposition to stand in legislative elections on February 25.

Tikhanovskaya said a further 10 political prisoners were suffering health problems in jail “in horrible conditions.”
“We must join forces to get them freed as soon as possible,” she said.

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