The Observatory has been informed about criminal charges brought against Nasta Loika, a human rights defender formerly working with Human Constanta, a human rights organisation liquidated in August 2021, amid a vast offensive against civil society organisations and independent media in the country.
On December 24, 2022, the Investigative Committee of Belarus charged Nasta Loika under two articles of the Criminal Code of Belarus, including “organising group actions that grossly violate public order” (Part 1, Article 342). The second charge remains unknown at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, as well as the grounds for these accusations. Yet, on December 20, 2022, a state-sponsored media outlet published a lengthy article stating that the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus would have uncovered a “spy network” allegedly led by Nasta Loika.
The article contains three videos of Ms Loika in which she describes her human rights activities, which are subjected to criminal liability, as individual activities in unregistered and liquidated organisations are illegal under Belarusian law since January 2022. The circumstances surrounding the recording of these videos are unknown, but there are sufficient grounds to believe that Nasta Loika was forced to make them during interrogations. The publication of these videos violates Ms Loika’s presumption of innocence as well as the confidentiality of the investigations. The article also contains photos of other Belarusian human rights defenders and accuses them along with Ms Loika of “collecting information about Belarusian citizens and sending it to foreign structures”.
At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Nasta Loika remains detained in Detention Centre No. 1 in Minsk, where she was transferred on December 30, 2022. She is at high risk of torture and ill-treatment.
On December 16, 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee requested Belarus to take interim measures in favour of Nasta Loika, by granting her immediate access to independent medical care, and ensuring that her life, physical and mental integrity are safeguarded, including by providing her with seasonally appropriate clothes. None of these measures had been implemented by the Belarusian authorities at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
The Observatory recalls that Nasta Loika was abducted on October 28, 2022, and placed under administrative arrest in Akreststina street temporary detention centre on October 31, 2022. On that day, she was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest on the charge of “petty hooliganism” (Article 19.1 of the Administrative Code of Belarus), and was subsequently arrested on the same charge for three consecutive times on November 14, November 29 and December 14, 2022, respectively. The continued extension of her administrative arrest under the same article was used to keep her in detention as a punishment for her human rights activities.
During the hearing on November 14, 2022, Ms Loika reported to have been tortured and ill-treated in detention. Her allegations were dismissed, and to date, no investigation has been launched into them. On October 28, 2022, an unofficial Telegram channel of the Belarusian security services published a video of Ms Loika handcuffed, where she allegedly confessed receiving funds from foreign organisations, which is illegal in Belarus under Article 21 of the Law on Public Associations. There are fears that Nasta Loika was forced to confess after being subjected to torture or physical or psychological pressure.
Nasta Loika was also subjected to 30 days of arbitrary detention in September 2022 on the same fabricated charges of “petty hooliganism” and then released. She was detained following her attendance on September 6, 2022 to the trial against ‘Viasna’ members Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapyuk in the Minsk City Court, where they were sentenced to 15 and six years in prison, respectively.
Earlier in August 2021, Ms Loika had been arbitrarily detained and charged with “assisting tax evasion”.
The reprisals against Ms Loika are part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Belarus. According to Viasna, as of January 5, 2023, 1445 individuals remained detained in the country for political reasons, including 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski. In 2021 alone, the authorities shut down more than 275 human rights and other independent organisations, leaving not one legally operating human rights NGO in the country. In addition, legislative amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in December 2021 re-introduced criminal liability for "acting on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organisations". The liquidation of all independent human rights organisations by the authorities has therefore led to a de facto criminalisation of human rights work.
The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, enshrined in international human rights instruments, including in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Belarus, have been severely and continuously violated by the authorities in recent years, which destroys civil society in the country.
The Observatory condemns the criminal charges brought against Nasta Loika and her ongoing arbitrary detention, as well as the above-mentioned acts of torture and ill-treatment against her. The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to immediately release her and protect and respect her right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment.
The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Belarus to put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial and administrative levels, against Nasta Loika and all other human rights defenders in the country.
The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders 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, asking them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Nasta Loika and all human rights defenders in Belarus, and respect and protect their right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Nasta Loika and all other arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
- Carry out an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment against Nasta Loika, in order to hold those responsible accountable;
- Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial and administrative levels – against Nasta Loika, and ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.
- 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;
- Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Belarus in your respective country.