The Belarusian Association of Journalists has called on authorities in Minsk to transfer jailed media worker Andrey Skurko so he can receive treatment for coronavirus-induced pneumonia -- a condition he reportedly developed while in pretrial detention.
The association said on July 29 that it filed its request with the Interior Ministry's penitentiary department and the Health Ministry. It calls for Skurko to be immediately transferred to a civilian hospital for urgent treatment.
Skurko, the head of the advertising and marketing department of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper and website, was one of several employees arrested during a July 8 police raid on the media outlet's Minsk headquarters.
Nasha Niva reported this week that the 43-year-old Skurko had been transferred to the medical ward of the detention center where he is being held due to "structural changes in his lungs."
It said Skurko's cellmates were placed in quarantine because he was suspected to have been infected with COVID-19.
The newspaper says Skurko had previously spent 13 days in another detention center that is notorious for its harsh conditions.
It said he did not have a bed or a mattress there and was not allowed access to his diabetes medications.
“Andrey Skurko is an insulin-dependent diabetic. For people like him, the coronavirus can be deadly,” the journalists' association said on July 29.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up pressure on nongovernmental organizations and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against those who dispute the official results of the August 2020 presidential election.
Election officials declared authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner by a landslide, but demonstrators and opposition leaders say the results were rigged in Lukashenka's favor.
The Vyasna human rights center says that, in July alone, Belarusian police have conducted more than 200 raids on the offices and apartments of activists and journalists.
Lukashenka has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as "bandits and foreign agents."
Nasha Niva has published videos showing police brutally detaining protesters during the crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.Founded in 1906, Nasha Niva's website now has an audience of more than 100,000.
Other Nasha Niva employees detained in the July 8 raid included its editor in chief Yahor Martsinovich, journalist Andrey Dynko, and office accountant Volha Rakovich.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in last year's presidential election, says Lukashenka's regime is trying to silence the voice of the democratic opposition and independent media because "it is so afraid of the truth."
"Nasha Niva is not just a website," she said on Twitter after the July 8 police raid. "It is the oldest Belarusian newspaper mentioned in every schoolbook on the history of Belarus."
"This is how the regime treats our history," the self-exiled Tsikhanouskaya said. "The regime tries to silence us and hide the truth about the fraudulent presidential election, about violence, tortures, and repressions. But we remember."
Tsikhanouskaya, who met at the White House on July 28 with U.S. President Joe Biden, has called on the international community "to provide practical support" for Belarus's independent media and journalists.
She says that support should include "legal aid to repressed journalists, technical assistance for media outlets, [and] assistance to those media and reporters forced to flee Belarus" in order to continue their work.