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KUPLIN, Belarus -- A Belarusian civil rights activist who is serving an 18-month mandatory labor sentence at a state-owned industrial facility says he is on a hunger strike.

Yury Rubtsou told RFE/RL that he started the hunger strike on January 22 to protest salary levels in Belarus, where the government recently announced that the average monthly salary is the equivalent of $600.

Rubtsou contested that figure, saying he believes the actual average is substantially lower.

Rubtsou is also calling for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government to release all "political prisoners" and to give its opponents at least one hour a day of airtime on the national television channel.

Rubtsou received the manual labor sentence last April for insulting a judge at hearing during which he was jailed for 25 days after attending an unsanctioned protest in a T-shirt that said, "Lukashenka, Go Away!"

Lukashenka has tolerated little dissent or political opposition in more than 20 years as president.

MOSCOW -- Russia's Investigative Committee has launched investigations against civil rights activist Mark Galperin, accusing him of "multiple violation of the law on public gatherings."

Galperin's lawyer, Alla Frolova, told journalists on January 20 that her client was informed about the criminal case against him the same day, but rejected the services of the lawyer provided by the authorities and refused to answer any questions using the Constitution's 51st paragraph.

The Investigative Committee said earlier that it had launched a probe against another civil rights defender, Vladimir Ionov, also accusing him of "multiple violations of the law on public gatherings."

Galperin and Ionov were arrested on January 10 for holding up a "Je Suis Charlie" sign near the Kremlin walls, expressing solidarity with French cartoonists murdered by Islamist terrorists in Paris.

On January 15, the two activists were among 15 protesters detained at an unsanctioned rally in support of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

On January 16, a court in Moscow sentenced Galperin to 38 days in jail for both protests and fined Ionov 170,000 rubles ($2,600).

If found guilty the men may face up to five years in jail.

With reporting by

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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