Belarus: One Year On Since Her Arbitrary Arrest, Nasta Lojka Remains Behind Bars
One year ago today, Nasta Lojka, a prominent human rights defender and one of the founders of Human Constanta, was arrested for the third time in Minsk by riot police officers. She was then questioned about her human rights work, ill-treated, and forced to record a “confession” on video. Since then, she has remained behind bars.
Her latest arrest took place only three weeks after she was released from a detention center, after serving six administrative sentences on unfounded charges of “petty hooliganism.” On 20 June 2023, she was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges resulting from the application of the repressive “anti-extremism” legislation. “Anti-extremism” laws have been widely used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the work of human rights defenders and others who dissent.
During her prolonged administrative detention, Nasta Lojka was denied access to her lawyer, essential medical treatment and necessities, including warm clothes, proper nutrition and drinking water. In her letters from the detention center, she described being hit with a stun gun during questioning as officers tried to force her to unlock her phone so that they could obtain information about her human rights activities. She was left for eight hours in a courtyard without outwear in cold temperatures in retaliation for complaining to the detention centre authorities about conditions of other detainees.
Over the past decade, Nasta Lojka co-founded and worked at Human Constanta, a partner organisation of REDRESS, in the field of human rights education, analysing and denouncing repressive “anti-extremism” laws, and advocating for the protection of the rights of migrants and stateless people in Belarus. In July 2021, amid the intensifying repression against civil society, Belarusian authorities shut down Human Constanta. In October, Nasta Lojka was placed on a “terrorist list” by the authorities. In the same month, the number of civil society organisations closed by the authorities reached 923.
Nasta Lojka’s treatment and imprisonment reflect a well-documented pattern of repression against human rights defenders by the Belarus government, including the practice of sentencing defenders to long prison terms. Earlier this year the Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, founder of Viasna, one of the co-lead organisations of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus with REDRESS, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while his colleagues Valentin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich and Dzmitry Salauyou (convicted in absentia), were sentenced from seven to 10 years’ imprisonment. In September last year, Viasna’s volunteer network coordinator Marfa Rabkova, whose trial Nasta Lojka was attending when she was arrested for the first time, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
More than two years after the August 2020 presidential elections, the human rights situation in Belarus has significantly worsened. According to the latest report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Belarus presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September, more than 1,200 people are currently detained on politically motivated charges. This includes opposition candidates, political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and protesters.
The Belarusian authorities have so far bluntly ignored a call by five UN Special Rapporteurs and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to provide information on Nasta Lojka’s detention and take immediate measures to protect her rights. The UN Human Rights Committee has requested that Belarusian authorities provide her with immediate access to independent medical care, including a transfer to a relevant medical facility, if necessary, and ensure that her life, physical and mental integrity are safeguarded.
REDRESS and Human Constanta urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Nasta Lojka, and to investigate any allegations of ill-treatment and other violations in her case with a view to prosecute and hold accountable those responsible.
Photo credit: Human Constanta