Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) condemned today’s guilty verdict and 15-year prison sentence by a Belarus court against prominent blogger and RFE/RL Belarus Service journalist Ihar Losik.
Said RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, “The Lukashenka regime’s treatment of Ihar Losik has been reprehensible. The closed-door trial he and his co-defendants have endured for the past five months has been an outrageous travesty of justice. We again call on the Lukashenka regime to stop their assault on news organizations and journalists and bloggers like Ihar and let him return to his wife and daughter.”
Losik was arrested by Belarusian agents on June 25, 2020, in advance of the rigged presidential election in August that returned six-term incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka to the presidency. He was tried on charges widely considered to have been fabricated by Belarusian authorities, including “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and “preparation for participation in riots.” The trial lasted five months and took place behind closed doors at the prison where Losik was being held with his five co-defendants, who included video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, the husband of presidential candidate and opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and prominent opposition activist and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich.
Since his arrest, Losik has faced severe physical and psychological pressures, to include two debilitating hunger strikes. He has only been allowed to see his wife once throughout his ordeal, and been denied any visits at all with his parents or his young daughter. Prison authorities have also sought to affect Losik’s mental state while in detention with frequent transfers to different cells and by denying mail privileges for extended periods of time.
Losik’s wife, Darya, spoke by phone on October 20 with U.S. Special Envoy to Belarus Julie Fisher, and met the previous day with European Union representatives, the latest signs that Losik’s plight remains a priority for the U.S. and European governments. Losik’s unjust detention was prominently noted during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on June 9, in legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 20, in a statement by CSCE Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on April 13, and by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his statement supporting the April 19 reimposition of sanctions on nine state-owned Belarusian companies. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, U.S. Congressman Bill Keating, Lithuanian Seimas Speaker Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, among others, have called for Losik’s release.
RFE/RL journalists in Belarus have spent a cumulative 688 days behind bars since Losik was arrested in June 2020; RFE/RL freelancer Andrei Kuznechyk is still in jail, serving a second 10-day sentence for “hooliganism” in what RFE/RL’s Jamie Fly described as a “state-sponsored kidnapping.” A Belarusian court on December 3 designated the Telegram and YouTube channels of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service as “extremist”. In addition, RFE/RL’s bureau in Minsk was raided and sealed by Belarusian security forces on July 16, and numerous other RFE/RL journalists on assignment to report on the election and its aftermath have been harassed, detained, and stripped of their accreditations.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.