Belarusian Blogger Starts Hunger Strike To Protest New Criminal Charge

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- Belarusian blogger Ihar Losik, who has been recognized by rights organizations as a political prisoner, has started a hunger strike to protest a new charge against him.

Losik's colleague, blogger Anton Matolka, said that Losik was additionally charged on December 15 with helping prepare mass disorder. Losik was initially charged with helping prepare for violations of public order, which has a maximum punishment of three years in prison.

If found guilty of the latest charge, Losik, an RFE/RL consultant for new media technologies, faces up to eight years in prison.

According to Matolka, Losik started the hunger strike immediately after learning of the additional charge against him.

Losik's wife, Darya Losik, confirmed to RFE/RL that her husband was on hunger strike, adding that she was also now on hunger strike to support her husband.

Police arrested Losik in late June as he was actively covering preparations for the country’s August 9 presidential election for his blog.

Incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run the country for almost 30 years, was announced the landslide winner in the election, sparking nationwide protests amid cries of electoral fraud.

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.

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.