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US Welcomes Belarus Release of Journalist, Urges More

FILE - RFE/RL journalist Aleh Hruzdzilovich
FILE - RFE/RL journalist Aleh Hruzdzilovich

The United States on Sunday welcomed the release in Belarus of a journalist for a U.S.-backed outlet but urged freedom for hundreds of other prisoners rounded up in a crackdown on dissent.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had said days earlier that one of its reporters, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, was freed after nine months in prison.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States "welcomes" the release of Hruzdzilovich and several others.

"While the release of these political prisoners is a step in the right direction, too many political prisoners remain behind bars in Belarus," Price said in a statement. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners."

The U.N. office on human rights on Friday said that nearly 1,300 people are in detention in Belarus on political grounds.

Veteran strongman Alexander Lukashenko has tried to crush mass protests that erupted in 2020 after he was said to secure a sixth presidential term.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she won the election and has fled Belarus for exile in neighboring Lithuania, from which she heads the opposition.

Hruzdzilovich, 63, was arrested for allegedly taking part in the protests. He denies the charges and says he was there as a reporter.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which receives funding from the U.S. Congress but is editorially independent, said that two more of its journalists, Ihar Losik and Andrey Kuznechyk, remain imprisoned in Belarus.

In a July interview with AFP, Lukashenko did not deny being "authoritarian" and accused protesters of acting "against the state and their own nation."

RFE/RL is a sister network of Voice of America.