MINSK -- A court has extended the pretrial detention of Ihar Losik, a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant jailed in Belarus since last June on charges his supporters say are trumped up.
The blogger's wife, Darya Losik, told RFE/RL on March 22 that her husband's pretrial detention had been prolonged until May 25.
"We have just learned about the extension of his time in custody. Unfortunately, I do not know if it’s somehow linked with new charges. But we were told that he will spend at least two more months behind bars," Darya Losik said.
"RFE/RL condemns in the strongest terms the extension by Belarusian authorities, without explanation, of Ihar Losik’s time in pretrial detention for another two months," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said.
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"Ihar, his wife, his daughter, and his RFE/RL colleagues are waiting impatiently for this injustice to end, and for Ihar to be where he should have been all along -- free, with his family," he added.
On March 11, Losik was informed of additional unspecified charges that have never been made public. After hearing of the charges, he slit his wrists and launched a four-day hunger strike.
Losik's lawyer, Dzmitry Lepretar, has said he cannot talk about the charges due to an agreement with investigators.
Losik, who has already spent 270 days in pretrial detention, had been charged initially with allegedly using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of an August 9 presidential election that incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka subsequently claimed he won by a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud.
Since then Belarus has witnessed daily protests against the result. More than 30,000 people have been detained, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted in a government crackdown on demonstrators.
Lukashenka and top officials have been slapped with sanctions by the West, which refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of Belarus.
Losik, a consultant for RFE/RL on new-media technologies, ended his hunger strike less than two months after he first 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.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
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.
“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.
Fly repeated that call in remarks delivered remotely on March 22 to the Kalinowski Conference on the political crisis in Belarus, adding that Losik and RFE/RL's Belarus Service, known locally as Svaboda, had been targeted by the Lukashenka government because of their commitment to "the truth."
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.
"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."