Belarusian Artist and Political Activist Ales Pushkin Dies in Prison ‘Under Unclear Circumstances’

Ales Pushkin, a Belarusian artist and political activist who frequently took aim at his country’s strongman president Alexander Lukashenko, died in prison Tuesday while serving a five-year sentence, The Associated Press reported. 

The 57-year-old artist was thought to be in good health, according to the Viasna Human Rights Center in Belarus’s capital city Minsk, though Pushkin’s wife, Janina Demuch, told the AP he “died in the intensive care unit of the prison under unclear circumstances.”

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Pushkin was arrested in March 2021 after participating in massive protests that followed Lukashenko’s suspicious re-election, which multiple Western countries denounced as fraudulent. The five-year sentence, which was being served in Western Belarus’s Grodno prison, was inciting hatred and the “desecration of state symbols.” Pushkin allegedly painted a Belarusian nationalist who collaborated with the Nazi’s during World War II for one of his exhibitions, according to the AP. Pushkin stripped naked in protest during the sentencing hearing, which earned him 13 days in solitary confinement. 

More than 35,000 people were arrested during the 2021 protests, with security forces brutally attacking protesters, arresting journalists, and shutting down multiple NGOs and oversight bodies. 

This was not Pushkin’s first prison sentence. In 1999, the artist served two years for his performance work Dung for the President, during which he overturned a wheelbarrow full of manure at the entrance to Lukashenko’s presidential office in Minsk.

“It is clear that Pushkin has become another tragic victim of the Lukashenko regime,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition leader told the AP. “Thousands of political prisoners are suffering in Belarusian prisons for taking part in pro-democracy protests, supporting Ukraine, or simply expressing their beliefs.”


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