Man Awaiting Trial For Insulting Belarusian President Dies In Jail

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A Belarusian man who was in jail awaiting trial on charges of insulting the authoritarian president has died in custody, the country's leading human rights group said Thursday.

Aliaksandr Kulinich, 51, died Tuesday in a detention center in the western city of Brest that is notorious for harsh treatment of opposition activists, the Viasna human rights center said.

His death is officially listed as coronary heart disease, but exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called for an investigation and for international pressure on Belarus to halt abuse of political prisoners.

Kulinich was arrested on Feb. 29 after making social media posts opposing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko, who has stifled opposition and independent media since taking office in 1994.

The crackdown on dissent sharply intensified after the wave of massive protests that arose following the August 2020 presidential election whose disputed results gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office. About 35,000 people were detained in connection with the protest wave, many of them reportedly tortured in custody.

Viasna says there are now nearly 1,400 political prisoners in Belarus, including group founder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski.