Ales Pushkin: how many more deaths?

Tuesday, July 11, 2023, marked a new low in the developing tragedy in Belarus.

In the early morning, Belarusian society was shocked by the death of a prominent artist and political prisoner, Ales Pushkin. Ales died in the custody of Belarusian prison authorities under unclear circumstances after being rushed from prison to an intensive care unit. According to sources, Ales developed stomach ulcers while in prison and was not treated for his medical condition.

Refusal of treatment for a serious medical condition is a gross violation of the human right to life and makes the Belarusian prison authorities and the Lukashenka regime responsible for Ales Pushkin’s death.

Ales Pushkin was a prominent artist and performer who, since the 1980s, has advocated for freedom and democracy, contributed to the revitalization of the Belarusian national identity, and protested dictatorship and the Russian domination over the Belarusian language and culture under the Lukashenka regime.

In 2021, Lukasheka’s court sentenced Ales Pushkin to five years in a penal colony for a painting made a few years prior. The authorities claimed the painting image “mocked state symbols” and incited “social enmity or strife.” Like all political prisoners in Belarus, Ales Pushkin was mistreated and tortured for his rejection of the regime and even for his use of the Belarusian language.

The international media have previously reported disturbing news on the health of political prisoners Viktar Babaryka, a presidential hopeful; Maryia Kalesnikava, Babaryka’s campaign manager; Ales Bialitaski, a Laureate of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize; Mikola Statkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, and many others.

Ales Pushkin is not the first political prisoner to die in custody under mysterious circumstances. Vitold Ashurak died in May 2021 under similar circumstances. Raman Bandarenka was beaten by plainclothes security officers and died of severe head injuries. About a dozen individuals went missing or died during the 2020 presidential electoral cycle and its aftermath.

Today Belarus has over 1,500 officially recognized political prisoners, of whom many are journalists. Some 30,000 people have been repressed in total, and hundreds of thousands have left the country in fear of persecution. People suspected of disloyalty to the regime are forced out of their jobs and prevented by the authorities from finding other employment. Often the social services, under the pretense of declaring families of dissidents dysfunctional, take children away from their families and place them in foster care.

The Belarus Freedom Forum calls on the Biden-Harris Administration and U.S. Congress to increase pressure on the Lukashenka regime to release all political prisoners and investigate all deaths in police custody.