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Imprisoned U.S. Lawyer In Belarus Taken To Hospital

Emanuel Zeltser in April
MINSK (Reuters) -- A U.S. lawyer serving a three-year jail sentence in Belarus after being found guilty of industrial espionage has been taken to hospital, his lawyer said.

Emanuel Zeltser, who was convicted in August, suffers from a back ailment. His lawyer, Dzmitry Harachka, said he was taken to hospital immediately after he was moved from detention in the capital Minsk to a prison in the eastern town of Mahilyou.

Zeltser was convicted four months after arriving in Belarus to represent Josef Kay, a relative of late Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. He was also found guilty of carrying forged documents.

"His blood pressure rose sharply and the prison administration was obliged to send him to the hospital," Harachka told Reuters. He said he had no further details, but intended to visit Zeltser later in the day.

The U.S. State Department has repeatedly called for Zeltser's release on health grounds. His conviction is an irritant in ties between the United States and Belarus.

Zeltser, 54, was arrested at the height of a diplomatic row with Washington and his closed trial prompted U.S. protests.

Belarusian authorities asked the U.S. ambassador to leave in March after accusing Washington of toughening sanctions against oil producer Belneftekhim.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has long been accused by the West of flouting basic rights, but relations have improved with the release in August of detainees deemed political prisoners.

Those detainees, including opposition figure Alyaksandr Kazulin, were given presidential pardons without requesting them. Harachka said Zeltser had also sought no such pardon.