VITEBSK, Belarus (AP) — An opposition activist who is holding a hunger strike in prison went on trial Tuesday in Belarus.
During an opening session, Sergei Kovalenko took off his shirt in court to demonstrate his worsening condition and demand a medical examination.
"The authorities have failed to break my will and my desire to be free," said Kovalenko, who is so thin that all his ribs showed clearly.
Last week, European Parliament President Martin Schulz demanded that Kovalenko be freed immediately, warning officials in Belarus they will "have blood on their hands if he dies."
In 2010, Kovalenko received a three-year suspended sentence for hoisting an opposition flag atop a Christmas tree in the Belarusian capital. He went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest in December on charges of violating the terms of his sentence.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who Western rights group have called "Europe's last dictator," has been in office since 1994. He has consistently suppressed opposition groups and cracked down on independent media.
Belarusian rights activists say that 15 people, including two former presidential candidates, have remained in prison on political charges.
"The authorities are trying to suppress any opposition activities amid an economic crisis," said Valentin Stefanovich of Vyasna rights group.
Schulz repeated his call for the government to free and rehabilitate all political prisoners.
"I am appalled by the deteriorating situation in Belarus regarding human rights and political freedoms," he said. "The citizens of Belarus deserve better."
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