Belarus protest leader's health problems caused by bad treatment in jail - allies

FILE PHOTO: Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of mass protests in Belarus in 2020, attends a news conference in Minsk.

KYIV (Reuters) - Political allies of jailed Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova said on Wednesday a rapid deterioration in her health last week and eventual hospitalisation were prompted by bad treatment in prison.

The strident critic of President Alexander Lukashenko underwent surgery last week and was put in intensive care in a ward in Gomel in southeast Belarus. Her father said she had been treated for a perforated ulcer and peritonitis.

Kolesnikova, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence after leading mass protests in 2020, had been in a solitary confinement punishment cell before her health worsened sharply, opposition politician Viktor Babariko's Telegram account said.

"Her emergency hospitalisation with a perforated ulcer and peritonitis was the result of the disproportionately harsh detention in a punishment cell," it said in statement.

It said she had lost consciousness, complained of feeling unwell but been denied medical assistance for a long time.

"She began to have a crisis: in addition to problems with blood pressure, nausea and losing consciousness there was excruciating pain in her stock," it said.

Kolesnikova was one of several leaders of the street protests against Lukashenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. She was jailed on what she says were trumped-up allegations of involvement in mass unrest.

More than 10,000 criminal cases have been opened since 2020 for involvement in protests or criticising the authorities, which is also an offence.

(Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy Heritage)