A freelance journalist, who has worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarus Service, remains in jail on unspecified charges, despite serving two 10-day sentences on controversial hooliganism charges, his relatives said Thursday.
Andrey Kuznechyk’s family told RFE/RL that they were officially informed that the journalist was being transferred from the notorious Akrestsina detention center, where many inmates have said they were tortured, to another facility in Minsk.
The family was also told that a criminal case on unspecified charges had been launched against Kuznechyk.
Kuznechyk has been held by authorities since late November.
After going for a bike ride on the 25th of last month, Kuznechyk returned to his apartment, accompanied by four men in civilian clothes, according to his wife, Alesya Rak.
The men, who did not show any identification, then searched their apartment, Rak said, only avoiding the rooms of their two young children.
Kuznechyk was then led away by the group, who did not give a reason for his detention.
The journalist was sentenced to 10 days in jail the following day, after a trial in which he refused to accept a guilty verdict on hooliganism charges.
On December 6, when his initial sentence ended, he was not released, but handed another 10-day jail term, also on a hooliganism charge.
Kuznechyk’s relatives told RFE/RL at the time that the journalist continues to maintain his innocence.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has said the extension of Kuznechyk’s sentence “on absurdly fabricated charges” should be considered a crime in itself.
“Andrey’s state-sponsored kidnapping continues, all in furtherance of the Lukashenko regime’s efforts to block independent information from reaching the Belarusian people. Andrey should be allowed to return to his family immediately,” Fly said in a statement on December 6, referring to authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko.
Tensions have been running high in Belarus since Lukashenko, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of an August 2020 presidential election that opponents and the West say was rigged.
Many Western nations have since refused to recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus, leaving him more reliant than ever on Russia, which analysts say is using his weakened position to strengthen its hold over its smaller neighbor.
Tens of thousands of people have been detained, and human rights activists say more than 800 people are now in jail as political prisoners.
Independent media and opposition social media channels have been targeted as well.
The group Reporters Without Borders has described Belarus as the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel.
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