Jailed Swiss-Belarus citizen on hunger strike in Minsk

Protesters take part in a rally against the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, 18 October 2020. Keystone / Str

Natallia Hersche, a Swiss-Belarus dual national who was jailed after participating in anti-government protests in Minsk last September, has been on hunger strike in prison for almost two weeks, it was confirmed on Sunday.

This content was published on March 8, 2021 - 09:52

Hersche has reportedly been on hunger strike since February 22, according to Belarus news reports. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed this information on Sunday. It told the Keystone-SDA news agency that the Swiss ambassador to Belarus, Claude Altermatt, had been informed by Hersche of her hunger strike when he last visited her in a Minsk prison on March 1.

The Swiss ambassador has expressed his concern about her health and has asked Hersche to end her hunger strike. The Swiss embassy in Minsk is in regular contact with her, the foreign ministry said.

The 52-year old dual national was arrested and handed a 30-month jail term in December for taking part in a women’s protest against the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk last September. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half-years in a penal colony for allegedly resisting state authority when being arrested.

A Swiss-German NGO and Swiss parliamentarians have been campaigning for her release.

According to the Libereco human rights organisation “during her violent arrest, she pulled the mask off the face of a security guard who was not identified as such, in mortal fear, and scratched him”. The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed the verdict. 

Belarus has been shaken by protests ever since official results from the August 9 presidential election gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office by a landslide. The opposition and some poll workers have said the election was rigged.

Lukashenko’s government has unleashed a sweeping crackdown on post-election protests, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Human rights activists say more than 30,000 people have been detained since the demonstrations began, with thousands beaten.

In January, a Swiss journalist was also briefly arrested by security forces in the streets of Minsk.

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