A group of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress has condemned the “unjust and illegitimate detainment” of Ihar Losik, a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant jailed in Belarus, calling for his immediate release in the latest show of support from the highest echelons of government.
In a letter addressed to Losik on March 26, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him, his family, and all other Belarusians struggling in the country’s pro-democracy movement amid a violent government crackdown following a presidential election last August that authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed to win and which the opposition says was rigged.
“We join the international community in strongly condemning your unjust and illegitimate detainment by the Belarusian authorities,” the seven lawmakers said in the letter. “We stand ready to hold those complicit in your illegitimate detention to account through targeted sanctions working with our friends and allies in the European Union.”
The letter was signed by Representatives Marcy Kaptur (Democrat-Ohio), Bill Keating (Democrat-Massachusetts), David Cicilline (Democrat-Rhode Island), Tom Malinowski (Democrat-New Jersey), James McGovern (Democrat-Massachusetts), Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican-Pennsylvania), and Chris Smith (Republican-New Jersey).
Lukashenka, who has ruled the country since 1994, has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 people have been detained, hundreds beaten, several killed, and the media targeted.
Losik is among nearly 300 political prisoners caught up in the crackdown.
In response to the suppression of protesters, the West has slapped sanctions on top officials and refuses to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of the former Soviet republic.
The 28-year-old Losik has been in pretrial detention since June 2020 on charges widely considered trumped up.
He was initially charged with allegedly using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of a presidential election last August.
Earlier this month, he tried to slit his wrists and launched a four-day hunger strike after being informed of new, unspecified charges. He had previously launched a six-week hunger strike to protest the original charges.
On March 22, 11 days after he was informed of the new charges, a court extended Losik's pretrial detention to May 25.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned the move and the new charges, saying the father of a 2-year-old daughter should be released immediately so he can be reunited with his family.
“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,” Fly wrote, adding that RFE/RL was "deeply distressed" by the new charges and Losik's deteriorating health situation.
The oversight agency for RFE/RL and other U.S. international broadcasters has also condemned the Belarusian authorities' decision to heap further charges on Losik and has demanded his release.
The U.S. State Department and other members of Congress have previously condemned the wrongful detention of Losik and other political prisoners.