Belarus opposition figure said in prison hospital amid hunger strike

The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus A jailed opposition leader was taken to a prison hospital Tuesday on the 12th day of a hunger strike he is conducting to draw attention to the Belarusian government's treatment of its opponents, officials and lawyers said.

Alexander Kozulin was sentenced in July to 5 1/2 years in prison after his conviction on charges of organizing an unsanctioned rally against the disputed March re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Kozulin, who ran against Lukashenko in a campaign marred by widespread arrests and harassment of the opposition, has been on a hunger strike since Oct. 20 and required hospitalization Tuesday, chief prosecutor Pyotr Miklashevich said.

The prosecutor gave no details about Kozulin's condition. Kozulin's lawyer Igor Rynkevich said he was not allowed to visit his client and had been told by administrators at the prison in the city of Vitebsk that the 50-year-old opposition politician "'looks good and happy.'"

Kozulin is conducting the hunger strike in a bid to draw the attention of the U.N. Security Council to "the catastrophic human rights situation in Belarus," Rynkevych said, citing a letter he said Kozulin gave him during an earlier visit.

Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic of 10 million since 1994 and is shunned by Western nations for prolonging his rule through referendums and votes widely seen as fraudulent and for crushing political opponents.