The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and subsequent release of Nasta Loika, a former human rights defender at Viasna and currently an employee of Human Constanta  Ms. Loika is now under a travel ban, an obligation to appear before a court or an internal affairs department in case she’s summoned, and her bank accounts were frozen. She can be detained and indicted at any point in time. Her detention is part of the ongoing crackdown on Viasna and more broadly Belarus human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations following the coordinated raids and arbitrary arrests that started on July 14, 2021.
On August 13, 2021, officers of the Belarus’ Financial Investigation Department searched the apartment of Nasta Loika. After the search, Ms. Loika informed her lawyer that she was being detained and put in the Akrestsina lane temporary detention centre in Minsk for further interrogations. On the day of her detention, Human Constanta published a video message that Ms. Loika recorded in case of her arrest in which she states that she was detained for her legitimate human rights activities, encourages Belarusians to stand up and fight for their rights, and calls to support each other.
On August 16, 2021, Nasta Loika was released, after 72 hours of arbitrary detention. Upon her release, it became known that she was suspected of “assisting in tax evasion” (under part 6 Article 16 and part 2 Article 243 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus) in the case brought against the leadership of the human rights centre Viasna. Ms. Loika had been Viasna’s employee for eight years, and she left the organisation three years ago. Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Valiantsin Stefanovic, and Dzmitry Salauyou of Viasna also appear in this case. Due to this harassment, Ms. Loika has started experiencing health issues and struggle with acute anxiety.
According to Ms. Loyka’s interview to Belsat, her detention is part of a global context of the persecution against civil society in Belarus. She believes that during the mass searches of human rights organisations’ offices and human rights defenders’ houses from February to July 2021, the authorities were able to find materials that provided a formal pretext to initiate criminal cases against the defenders. Ms. Loika notes that the authorities have never liked Viasna’s activities, but now "there is a specific desire to go after specific people," and she, though not affiliated with Viasna anymore, “has been put on some lists”. Nasta Loika also specified that the criminal case against her and Viasna’s leadership is politically motivated and that the defenders in this case have been accused of paying fines for protesters [charged for participating in unauthorised assemblies, which is a legitimate activity under the international human rights law including agreements ratified by Belarus], and compensating attorneys’ fees in defence cases involving victims of torture and violations of rights of protesters by the law enforcement authorities.
The Observatory condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Nasta Loika, which is only aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities, and calls on the authorities in Belarus to put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial level, against her and all other human rights defenders in the country.
The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of other human rights defenders in the country, including Viasna members Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasista, Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapyuk, as well as the legal counsellor at the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Aleh Hrableuski. The director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski remains under house arrest, while the lawyer of Viasna HRC Dzmitry Salauyou is under a restriction order.
The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders, journalists and activists arbitrarily detained in Belarus and to guarantee their physical integrity and psychological well-being.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Nasta Loika, Kiryl Kafanau, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapyuk, Aleh Hrableuski, Siarhei Drazdouski, Dzmitry Salauyou and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapyuk, Aleh Hrableuski, Siarhei Drazdouski, and all other detained human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Nasta Loika, Kiryl Kafanau, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapyuk, Aleh Hrableuski, Siarhei Drazdouski, Dzmitry Salauyou and all other human rights defenders in the country, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iv. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
• Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
• Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
• Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
• Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
• Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
• Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
• Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
• H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.