The bipartisan Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives has urged the government of Belarus to immediately release jailed blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik and other “political prisoners.”
“We are deeply troubled by the Belarusian government’s decision to file new charges against Ihar, after having kept him behind bars and away from his young family for the past nine months,” the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chairs, Representatives James McGovern (Democrat) and Christopher Smith (Republican), wrote in a March 13 statement.
“We condemn the brutal crackdowns and sham charges leveled at the press in Belarus for reporting on the repressive actions of the government of [Alyaksandr Lukashenka],” the statement continued. “Ihar and other political prisoners must be released immediately.”
The day before, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees RFE/RL and other U.S international broadcasters, called the “false charges” against Losik “unacceptable.”
“Belarusian authorities should drop all charges against Ihar and immediately release him,” acting USAGM Chief Executive Officer Kelu Chao said in a statement.
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 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 had 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 illusions. 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.