Ihar Losik, a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant jailed in Belarus since last June on charges his supporters say are trumped up, has ended a hunger strike and is now in solitary confinement.
Losik ended his hunger strike on March 15, his wife, Darya Losik, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service.
"He was placed in solitary confinement for five days for going on the hunger strike. He was on the hunger strike for four days. He is still in solitary confinement now," Darya Losik said, adding that she and her husband's lawyer would travel in the coming days to the detention facility in Zhodino where her husband is being held.
Losik tried to slit his wrists and launched the hunger strike on March 11 when fresh, unspecified charges were leveled against him.
He had been charged already with allegedly using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of an August 9 presidential election that Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed he won by a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud.
Since then, Belarus has witnessed daily protests. More than 30,000 people have been detained, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted in the government’s crackdown.
Lukashenka and top officials have been slapped with sanctions by the West, which refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of Belarus.
The announcement comes after Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader who supporters say actually won the August poll, urged Losik and two other jailed Belarusians to end hunger strikes to protest their incarceration as part of the government's crackdown on those speaking out against Lukashenka.
"You are now risking your lives by expressing your protest through a hunger strike. But, we, Belarusians, are not ready to risk you.... Your loved ones, parents, and children need you. Belarus needs you," Tsikhanouskaya said in the statement.
Losik, a consultant for RFE/RL on new-media technologies, ended his hunger strike less than two months after he went on a six-week hunger strike to protest the original charges that he allegedly used his video blog to help organize riots to protest the election results.
News of the new charges against the 28-year-old father of a 2-year-old daughter prompted RFE/RL President Jamie Fly to urge Lukashenka to release Losik immediately so he can be reunited with his family.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
"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 condemned the Belarusian authorities' decision to heap further charges on Losik and has demanded his release.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) statement on March 12 cited "false charges" that have kept Losik in detention for more than 260 days.
"It's unacceptable that reporting on the Belarusian election cost a respected journalist his freedom," USAGM acting Chief Executive Officer Kelu Chao said in a statement. "Belarusian authorities should drop all charges against Ihar and immediately release him."