MINSK -- Almost 160 demonstrators were detained over the weekend in continued protests against strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's claiming of a landslide victory and a sixth presidential term in an August 2020 election that opposition politicians and hundreds of thousands of citizens contend was stolen.
The Vyasna human rights center said on January 24 that many of the protesters were detained after groups linked arms to form human chains in a show of solidarity with political prisoners, including jailed blogger Ihar Losik, who has been on hunger strike since mid-December 2020.
Police arrested Losik, a popular Belarusian blogger and an RFE/RL consultant for new media technologies, in late June on a charge of helping prepare for violations of the public order, which has a maximum punishment of three years in prison.
On December 15, the 24-year-old was charged additionally with helping prepare mass disorder in connection with protests against the disputed August 9 presidential election. To protest the new charge, Losik immediately launched his hunger strike.
He is being held at the Akrestsina detention center in Minsk, which Amnesty International has described as “synonymous with torture.” Former detainees have spoken of brutal beatings by guards at Akrestsina and other jails in Belarus.
January 23 was the 169th day of protests against Lukashenka, who has run the country for almost 30 years.
Police have violently cracked down on the postelection protests, and many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country as the demonstrations continue.
The United Nations says authorities have detained more than 30,000 protesters since the rallies started and there have also been credible reports by rights groups of torture and ill-treatment.
Western governments have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote, and imposed sanctions on him and his allies, citing election rigging and the police crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to step down and says he will not negotiate with the opposition.