Radio Free Europe
Tomorrow it will be exactly two years since Aleksandr Lukashenko controversially claimed Belarus’ election victory. Controversial, because international observers were not welcome and beforehand he had a large number of politicians, activists and journalists arrested, including his main opponents in the elections. According to human rights organization Viasna, 1,262 political prisoners are still in detention.
Blogger Igor Losik is one of them. In 2020 – a few months before the elections – he was arrested for managing a news channel on messaging app Telegram. Since then, his wife Daria has been campaigning relentlessly for his release on social media. As in a video in which she offers Lukashenko to take her husband’s place. “I will go to a Belarusian prison and take up the charges against Igor in exchange for his freedom,” she said. “Put some charges on top of it, so you can enjoy it even more.”
Igor Losik / Facebook
With her video messages she hopes to remind people in Belarus and beyond of what political prisoners go through. “It is not safe for people to express themselves openly,” she told Nieuwsuur. “But if we want to let others know what’s going on here, how illegal it is here, then you have to overcome your fear and make yourself heard.”
Two years ago, the opposition united around the wife of one of the imprisoned politicians: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. According to her supporters, she has won the election. She had to flee to Lithuania, where a large part of the opposition now lives and works.
In the trial of her husband, a large number of bloggers, journalists and activists were also convicted. Including Igor, Daria’s husband.
Last year, even before the verdict against Igor was pronounced, Nieuwsuur also spoke to Daria. “They will never admit that someone is innocent,” she said at the time. “I expect a severe punishment, which will be unfair and absurd.”
Initially, Igor was arrested for organizing protests. After that charge was aggravated, he tried to commit suicide. He also went on hunger strike twice.
In her videos on social media, Daria reacted to her husband’s hunger strike:
‘I demand that the bullying stops’
The trial of Igor took place behind closed doors. “Igor told me: In the five months that my case has been going on, I have only heard my last name once during this so-called lawsuit,” says Daria. “During the session, he could just sit and do puzzles.”
Igor was eventually sentenced to 15 years behind bars, which he is serving in a penal camp. Later, in June this year, he was placed on the terrorist list.
This is how Daria reacted to the verdict:
‘I hope you feel really bad after this farce’
Since then, she regularly travels with food parcels and photos of their daughter to her husband’s penal camp. She is allowed to visit him twice a month.
“To let everyone know that the situation is still dire, the Belarusians themselves need to do more to keep the subject of oppression on the agenda,” she said. “Because if everyone stays silent, what happened in Belarus in August 2020 will be forgotten.”
Many people around the Belarusian opposition have since left the country. Daria also regularly received offers to leave the country with her daughter. “But my husband is here,” she says. “In one of my letters I wrote that I’d rather go to jail than leave. Because leaving him here, actually leaving him here alone, I can’t do that.”
Why hasn’t Daria been arrested yet?
“The repression under Lukashenko has turned out to be enormous,” says reporter Gert-Jan Dennekamp, who interviewed Daria for Nieuwsuur. “All leaders of the anti-Lukashenko protests have received heavy prison sentences.”
However, Daria has not yet been arrested. How is that possible?
“Lukashenko seems to focus less on the women and the mothers of the prisoners,” says Dennekamp. “Lukashenko’s biggest blunder is that he underestimated women like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Perhaps that is the case again. But it could also be that Daria is being spared because she protests not so much against the regime, but mainly for the release. of her husband pleads.”
In the video below you can see how things work in Belarusian prisons: