Belarusian authorities should
immediately and unconditionally free Nasta Loika, a woman human rights
defender held behind bars since 28 October 2022 who is being prosecuted
on politically motivated incitement and other charges that carry a
maximum 12 years in prison.
The authorities have subjected her to
torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, disbarred her lawyer,
whose successor they refused to attest, initiated a smear campaign
against her, and failed to respond to inquiries about her situation by
United Nations human rights monitors.
The undersigned organizations
strongly condemn this treatment and urge Belarusian authorities to free
Nasta Loika, drop the criminal charges against her, and meanwhile ensure
her access to independent lawyers, and end her subjection to cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment.
Nasta Loika is a political prisoner
whom Belarusian authorities are persecuting in reprisal for her
longstanding work as a woman human rights defender. She has been
actively engaged in human rights work for almost 15 years, focusing on
anti-discrimination and equality issues, fair trial, rights of
foreigners and stateless people, and informal human rights education.
She is an expert on freedom of assembly, legal mechanisms of human
rights protection, trial monitoring, volunteer management, and combating
hate speech and hate crimes.
She is the recipient of the Human Rights Defender of the Year 2022 award in recognition of her outstanding work from the Belarus human rights community.
This is not the first time
Belarusian authorities have persecuted Nasta Loika in retaliation for
her work, but the actions they have taken against her since September
are unmatched in their severity.
Since 6 September 2022, woman human
rights defender has served a total of six 15-day administrative
sentences on bogus “petty hooliganism” charges under Article 19.1 of the
Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus. On 24
December, while still in administrative detention, she was charged with
criminal offenses under Article 342, part 1 (“organizing group actions
grossly violating public order”) and Article 130, part 3 (“incitement of
racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord”) of the
Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.
Torture and Ill-treatment in Okrestina Detention Center
During Nasta Loika’s administrative
detention in Okrestina Detention Center, notorious for severe
ill-treatment of detainees, the authorities denied her access to legal
assistance, as well as medication and warm clothes. She also alleged
torture and inhuman treatment in detention. In one example she cited,
she was forced to remain in the courtyard without any outerwear for 8
hours in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius after which she fell ill
for several weeks.
In November 2022, law enforcement
raided Nasta Loika’s mother’s home in an apparent attempt to put
additional pressure on the woman human rights defender.
Continuing Ill-Treatment in Pre-Trial Detention
After criminal charges were brought
against her, Nasta Loika was transferred from Okrestina to Volodarskogo
Pre-trial Detention Center, where she continues to experience degrading
In February, she requested dental
treatment. The facility’s administration and the Investigative Committee
handling her case turned down her request. When a dentist was found
independently after a month of persistent efforts by Loika’s colleagues
and relatives, the Investigative Committee prohibited the dentist from
visiting or treating her.
Because she adheres to a strict
vegan diet, she cannot eat properly in the facility because it does not
provide balanced vegan options, and she depends on outside food parcels.
This is a serious health concern for her, and a risk for her long-term
physical and mental well-being.
The woman human rights defender is
not allowed to receive letters from anyone but her mother, which
severely limits her communication with the outside world. The
investigative and prison authorities provide no justification for
limiting Loika’s ability to correspond with others freely, and to
receive letters and postcards. It also prevents the public from learning
more about her detention conditions.
In these circumstances, Nasta
Loika’s lawyers serve as one of few channels of communications from her.
But such communications are increasingly limited because of the
continued persecution of her attorneys.
Access to Legal Defense
In November, the authorities
detained Loika’s lawyer, who was then disbarred. In March, her
subsequent lawyer did not pass the attestation by the Qualification
Commission under the Ministry of Justice, which will lead to the
lawyer’s eventual disbarment. Such government actions threaten woman
human rights defender’s right to a legal defense and severely undermine
her right to a fair trial. These are also just a few examples of a
larger pattern of persecution of independent lawyers in Belarus documented by the Right to Defense (Defenders.by) initiative.
Throughout Nasta Loika’s prolonged
detention, a smear campaign against her and Human Constanta, the rights
group she worked with before its formal shutdown by the authorities, has
intensified. On 20 December 2022, the Belarusian state media outlet
“Belarus Today” published an article labeling Human Constanta a “spy
network” and calling human rights defenders “rats,” “foreign agents,”
and “regime fighters.” The article is littered with propaganda and hate
speech. It illustrates the biased stance of the authorities, who control
state media and are portraying Loika as a criminal before the case is
even heard on the merits.
During Nasta Loika’s administrative
detention, the Telegram channel of the Main Directorate for Combating
Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of
the Republic of Belarus (GUBOPiK)
published “confession” videos that were recorded under duress. These
were later used in the smear campaign. During the period when
communication with Loika was still possible, she said that GUBOPiK
employees beat her, threatened to use electroshock against her, and told
her that her dog would be killed if she did not cooperate.
Reaction of International Actors
On 17 November 2022, six United Nations experts requested
information from the Belarusian government about the alleged violations
of woman human rights defender Nasta Loika’s rights and explanations for
the government’s actions.
On 16 December 2022, the UN Human
Rights Committee registered a communication from her, alleging
violations of her right to liberty and security and a fair trial. The
Committee adopted interim measures in her case under rule 94 of the
Committee’s rules of procedure, asking Belarusian authorities to provide
her with immediate access to independent medical care, including
transfer to a relevant medical facility to receive adequate medical
treatment, if necessary, and to ensure that her life, and physical and
mental integrity were safeguarded, including by providing her with
seasonally appropriate clothes while her case remains under
Nasta Loika remains in detention
awaiting her criminal trial. The Belarusian authorities took no
meaningful action in response to the UN experts’ letter and the Human
Rights Committee’s decision on interim measures. Woman human rights
defender is repeatedly subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment in
detention. Her hygiene, dietary, and medical needs are not being met.