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Nobel prize winners demand release of Belarusian political prisoners

(Reuters) - More than two dozen Nobel prize winners have signed an open letter calling for the immediate release of political prisoners in Belarus, an opposition activist said on Wednesday.

The open letter, launched by activist Dmitry Bolkunets and posted on his website, was signed by Nobel peace laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Dmitry Muratov of Russia and Oleksandra Matviichuk of Ukraine.

It also carried the names of literature winners Svetlana Alexievich, J.M. Coetzee and Herta Mueller, and 19 other laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics.

"In recent decades, Europe has not seen a humanitarian catastrophe related to political repression on such a per capita scale as in Belarus," the letter said.

Among those imprisoned in Belarus are Ales Bialiatski, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said earlier this month she had not heard from her jailed husband Syarhey Tsikhanouski in a year. She said he was being held incommunicado, describing that as a form of torture.

Human Rights Watch says that hundreds of rights activists, journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians and others are imprisoned in Belarus on politically motivated charges and face ill-treatment in detention.

The open letter was addressed to the governments of all EU countries but urged Poland in particular, as the biggest western neighbour of Belarus, to exert leverage by suspending rail freight shipments to the EU from Belarus, including transit from Russia and China.

(This story has been corrected to fix Ales Bialiatski's name in paragraph 5)

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Richard Chang)