The oversight agency for RFE/RL and other U.S. international broadcasters has condemned the Belarusian authorities’ decision to heap further charges on detained blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik and demanded his release.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) statement on March 12 cited “false charges” that have kept Losik in detention for more than 260 days.
“It’s unacceptable that reporting on the Belarusian election cost a respected journalist his freedom,” USAGM acting Chief Executive Officer Kelu Chao said in a statement. “Belarusian authorities should drop all charges against Ihar and immediately release him.”
Losik was detained in June 2020 and accused of using his Telegram channel to “prepare to disrupt public order” and “preparation for participation in riots” ahead of a presidential vote in August that the opposition has said was rigged for Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Months of unprecedented protests have ensued and been met by thousands of arrests, brutal treatment of detainees, and a ruthless crackdown on media and journalists.
Losik’s wife, Darya, said on March 11, citing a lawyer, that her husband had slit his wrists in front of an investigator and lawyer and restarted a hunger strike after learning of the new charges this week.
She said the precise wording of the new charges was unknown and demanded that Lukashenka explain why her husband has been in prison for nine months.
Losik, a 28-year-old consultant for RFE/RL on new-media technologies and a father of a 2-year-old daughter, ended a six-week hunger strike less than two months ago.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said after learning of the new charges that “All of us at RFE/RL are deeply distressed by today’s new charges against Ihar, and his deteriorating health situation.”
He added: “Journalism is not a crime and Ihar has been unjustly detained for far too long. Ihar and his family should not be tortured in this way.”
Losik was slapped with charges in December 2020 that could result in an eight-year prison term.
In protest, Losik, who has been recognized as a political prisoner by rights activists, launched his initial hunger strike.
After ending that action in late January, a handwritten letter from Losik appeared in mid-February following news of a two-year jail sentence given to two journalists from Belsat, a Polish-funded news organization.
“I have no illusion. I think it’ll be about five more years, and by that time I will have died. I no longer have any desire to do anything,” Losik wrote. “So much has already been done, and all for naught: Nothing influences anybody. I’ll say it honestly: I doubt anything will change.”
Western governments have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the August 9 vote, and imposed sanctions on him and his allies, citing election rigging and the police crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to step down and says he will not negotiate with the opposition.