Ihar Losik, a popular Belarusian blogger, says he has ended a hunger strike he began more than two months ago to protest charges that he helped organize riots over a disputed presidential election that has triggered a wave of protests — and a harsh crackdown by the officials under Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the authoritarian leader who has held power since 1994.
“I have decided to end my hunger strike. Why have I done so? I did it on my own volition…. I was simply moved by the unbelievable wave of solidarity,” he said in a statement via his lawyer on January 25.
“Also, because of the hundreds and thousands of requests by Belarusians for me to end it, so that we can await our common victory in a healthy state. I also know that many have begun hunger strikes in solidarity with me. I cannot take on the weight of that responsibility. I don’t want people to suffer for my conscious decisions.”
Losik was arrested on June 25 and accused of using his popular Telegram channel to “prepare to disrupt public order” ahead of an August 9 presidential election that Lukashenka claimed he won by a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud.
Since then, Belarus has witnessed nearly daily demonstrations whose size and scope are unparalleled in the country’s post-Soviet history.
While awaiting his trial, the 28-year-old was sent to 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. If convicted, Losik faces a possible three-year prison term.
Then, on December 15, Losik, a consultant for RFE/RL on new-media technologies, was slapped with fresh charges that could result in an eight-year prison term if he is convicted. In protest, Losik, who has been recognized as a political prisoner by rights activists, launched his hunger strike.
On January 15, his wife, Darya Losik, told Current Time that her husband’s health was deteriorating and that medical attention was minimal.
Losik’s statement on January 25 did not give details on his current health status.
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.