WASHINGTON – Today marks the 500th day of detention for RFE/RL journalist and prominent blogger Ihar Losik– a milestone of injustice for Losik and the Belarusian government, which continues to deny Losik his freedom, according to RFE/RL President Jamie Fly.
“Ihar was kidnapped from his home on June 25, 2020 and has been subjected to inhumane and unjust treatment for 500 days. Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government fear the public accountability that is ensured in democratic states by a free media. Belarusian authorities must end this injustice and immediately release Ihar – and all of the journalists they have imprisoned – so that Ihar can be reunited with his wife and young child.”
Losik, who was arrested in advance of the August 9, 2020 rigged presidential election that returned six-term incumbent Lukashenka to the presidency, is standing trial on charges including “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and “preparation for participation in riots.” The four-month, closed-door proceeding, is in a two-week recess as Losik and the five other defendants in the trial prepare to respond to the charges, which are widely considered to have been fabricated by Belarusian authorities. A verdict in the trial is expect by the end of November.
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.
In addition to Losik’s long ordeal, 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, jailed, and stripped of their accreditations.
About RFE/RL's Belarus Service
Despite working in what Reporters Without Borders calls “the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel,” RFE/RL's Belarus Service continues to provide independent news and analysis of the fast-moving events to Belarusian audiences in their own language, relying on social media platforms such as Telegram, Instagram, and YouTube, as well as mirror sites and an updated news app to circumvent pervasive Internet blockages and access disruptions.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 41 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 6.5 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2020. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.