WASHINGTON – RFE/RL President Jamie Fly termed the trial of RFE/RL Belarus Service social media consultant Ihar Losik, which started today, a “mockery of justice,” and repeated his calls for Belarusian authorities to release Losik “immediately and without condition.” The trial of Losik and five other defendants, which is being held behind closed doors inside a detention center in the Belarusian city of Homel, began one day before Losik marks a full year since authorities searched his apartment in Baranavichy and arrested him. If convicted on the two charges he faces – “incitement of social hostility to government officials and law enforcement agencies” and “organization of mass riots” – Losik faces a maximum of 12 years in prison.
“As his wife Darya has so eloquently stated before, Ihar has faced unimaginable physical and psychological pressures over the past year, to include two debilitating hunger strikes. Instead of forcing Ihar to take part in this contemptible mockery of justice, Belarusian authorities should release him immediately and without condition, so that he can be reunited with his family,” Jamie Fly said.
Losik is being tried alongside Belarusian video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, the husband of opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya ,who was arrested after expressing his willingness to challenge longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka in last year's disputed presidential election; former presidential candidate and political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich; and opposition figures Uladzimer Tsyhanovich, Artsyom Sakau, and Dzmitry Papou. All six are being tried on charges widely considered to have been fabricated by Belarusian authorities, who have in the past year faced protests against the continued rule of Lukashenka. The six-term incumbent has responded with an unprecedented wave of fear and repression that has included the forced diversion of a Ryanair passenger jet in May to capture another opposition journalist, former RFE/RL Havel journalism fellow Raman Pratasevich.
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, 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, U.S. Agency for Global Media, among others, have also called for Losik’s release.
Losik was detained on June 25, 2020, following a search of his apartment in the Belarusian city of Baranavichy. A prominent blogger, Losik has been accused by authorities of using his popular Telegram channel to “prepare to disrupt public order” ahead of the controversial August 9 presidential election in Belarus that longtime incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka claims to have won in a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud.
In addition to Losik, 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. On October 2, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry canceled the accreditations of all journalists working for foreign media organizations in the country. To date, no Belarusian nationals working for Western media outlets have been accredited under the new procedures.
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.