KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – The Belarusian Association of Journalists on Thursday called on Belarusian authorities to transfer a jailed journalist to a civilian hospital so that he can seek treatment for a coronavirus-induced pneumonia he allegedly developed in detention .
The association said it had filed a request with the prison department of the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Health to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko, head of the advertising and marketing department of the famous Nasha Niva newspaper. Skurko, who was the newspaper’s editor from 2006 to 2017, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, the capital.
Nasha Niva reported this week that Skurko had been transferred to the facility’s medical department with “structural changes in his lungs,” and her cell mates were placed in quarantine because Skurko was suspected of having been infected with COVID-19.
The newspaper said that before Skurko, 43, was transferred to the detention center he is currently in, he spent 13 days in another detention center known for its harsh conditions, without a bed or mattress and without access to her diabetes medication.
“Andrei Skurko is an insulin dependent diabetic. For people like him, the coronavirus can be fatal, ”said the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
On July 8, Belarusian authorities raided the offices of Nasha Niva, the country’s oldest and most respected independent newspaper, as well as the homes of some staff. Skurko was arrested that day along with the newspaper’s editor, Yahor Martsinovich, and two other Nasha Niva employees, who were later released.
Martsinovich and Skurko remain in custody and face charges of incorrectly paying utility bills, charges carrying up to five years in prison.
Belarusian authorities have stepped up pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media, carrying out more than 200 searches of the offices and apartments of activists and journalists just this month, according to human rights center Viasna. .
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko pledged to continue what he called a “sweeping operation” against civil society activists whom he denounced as “bandits and foreign agents”.
Lukashenko faced months of protests sparked by winning a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to the protests with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
According to Viasna, Belarusian authorities are deliberately creating unbearable conditions for political prisoners behind bars, including placing them in “coronavirus cells”.
Raids targeting journalists and other detentions took place in Minsk and other cities on Thursday, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Earlier this week, Belarusian authorities declared Poland-funded Belsat TV channel to be an extremist group.
A total of 28 Belarusian journalists, including those who work with Nasha Niva, Belsat and the well-known independent news site Tut.by, remain in detention awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
In a statement Thursday, the International Federation of Journalists condemned the government crackdown on Belarusian media.
“We call on the international community to denounce the situation in Belarus. Every day, the authorities violate the freedoms of the media and citizens with complete impunity, ”said Federation Secretary General Anthony Bellanger.
Follow all of AP’s stories on developments in Belarus at https://apnews.com/hub/Belarus.