A citizen of the United States and Belarus, who worked for a US presidential candidate, has been in a Belarusian prison for almost two months. According to his wife, Vitaly Shklyarov was ill-treated and did not receive medical attention after he developed possible symptoms of COVID-19 in detention.
Heather Shklyarova, an employee of the US State Department, wrote in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News through her lawyer that she is increasingly worried about the physical and psychological well-being of her husband, who was arrested by the Belarusian security services. Vitaly is accused of organizing an illegal pre-election rally on May 29 in Grodno in support of the imprisoned opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky.
The man was detained despite the fact that he had never been to Grodno, never met Tikhanovsky and was with his wife at home in Arlington, Virginia that day. “His only crime was that, as a political analyst and research fellow at Harvard, he wrote articles in which he publicly criticized the administration of President Lukashenko,” said Shklyarov’s wife. Vitaly arrived in Belarus on July 9 with the couple’s 8-year-old son to visit his mother with cancer and celebrate his birthday with family and friends on July 11. Shklyarov’s wife stayed with her daughter to collect things before leaving for Kiev.
After arriving in Belarus, Vitaly was in a two-week quarantine at his parents’ house. “He didn’t leave the house all this time. Soon after his quarantine ended and on July 29 he was allowed to go outside, he was detained by the Belarusian special services, ”Heather said. “He was arrested not at a rally or public protest, but at a market in his hometown of Gomel, where he came to buy a watermelon for his mother, wearing a T-shirt, shorts and slippers.” According to her, Vitaly was captured right on the street, thrown into a van and taken to a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, while their son was left with his grandmother. “To this day, he bravely refuses to admit crimes that he did not commit, and therefore remains in prison. Heather added. “He should be released immediately and the baseless charges against him dropped.” “Vitaly was subjected to strong psychological pressure and was deprived of basic physical freedoms.”
The woman also stressed that Shklyarov’s health is in danger. “On September 8, Vitaly felt very bad and for several days in a row reported fever, as well as breathing problems, chills and muscle pains. The prison authorities refused to test him for COVID-19 or treat him for a fever, which can only be seen as another attempt to weaken his psychological will to obtain a false confession. ” Vitaly Shklyarov holds a US diplomatic passport. The journalist participated in the presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama in 2016 and 2012, respectively. This job, his Belarusian origin and American citizenship, may have made him the target of the Lukashenka regime.
In her statement, Heather described the grim picture of her husband’s life in a Belarusian detention center for almost seven weeks. “He is constantly moved from cell to cell so that he does not feel stable. The lights in his cell are never turned off, the music is loud all night, so he cannot sleep normally. He is only allowed to swim on Wednesdays with a bucket of warm water. ” “He was subjected to brutal strip searches, forced to stand naked for hours in his cell, and was never even allowed to sit on his bed during the day. His toe is broken as a result of an incident that he is afraid to describe even to his lawyer, and which the prison administration refuses to treat, ”she said.
Heather said she could not contact Vitali directly after his arrest. “At first we were allowed to transmit the records in Russian through his attorney, but they accused him of trying to send me the records in English and forbade me to write. – Heather said – “I am allowed to pass notes to him through a consular officer in Minsk, who was recently allowed to visit Vitaly in prison on a weekly basis.”