MINSK -- Authorities in Belarus have failed to release a freelance journalist who has worked for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service even though the 10-day jail term he was handed on a controversial hooliganism charge ended on December 6.
Andrey Kuznechyk was sentenced on November 26 after a trial in which he refused to accept the guilty verdict. He was being held in Minsk's notorious Akrestsina detention center, many inmates of which have said they were tortured there.
His relatives said on December 6 that they had still not been informed of his release. Belarusian authorities have yet to comment on the situation.
Kuznechyk went for a bike ride on November 25, before returning while accompanied by four men dressed 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.
Over the weekend, another Belarusian journalist, Paval Belavus, was not released from jail, although his 15-day jail term ended on December 4.
Belavus was found guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned rally and sentenced on November 19. He was also held in the Akrestsina detention center.
Tensions have been running high in Belarus since Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared winner of a presidential election in August 2020 that opponents and the West say was rigged.
Many Western nations have since refused to recognize Lukashenka 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 regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues its effort to crush all independent media in Belarus," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said on the day of Kuznechyk's capture.
"Andrey was kidnapped by agents of the regime for nothing more than being a journalist. The regime also targeted one of our social media accounts, attempting to cut off more channels of information for the Belarusian people. Andrey should be released immediately and allowed to return to his wife and young children. He has committed no crime."
Repressions against journalists in Belarus, 2021 (chart)