I was told to put my feet wide against the wall. Someone from behind was hitting my back from time to time and tried to open my legs wider, but I fell down. They shouted behind my back and demanded my second factor Telegram password.
A slap on the back and a question:
“Are you engaged in human rights protection?”
“Yes,” I responded.
After a pause:
“So you are engaged in human rights protection?”
Another blow. I am silent because they told me to be. After a pause.
“Will you keep silent or answer? Answer!”
“Apparently not anymore,” I said
From the side, I hear: “She needs some electric shock” and a characteristic sound.
Excerpt from Nasta Lojka’s letter describing her detention
Nasta Lojka is a prominent human rights defender, one of the founders of Human Constanta, and a political prisoner. For years she has been promoting human rights education, raising awareness about the repressive “anti-extremist” legislation in Belarus, and protecting foreign citizens and stateless persons in Belarus. She was named Human Rights Defender of the Year 2022 by the Belarusian human rights community. Yet, in the eyes of the repressive Belarusian authorities she is a criminal and, most recently, a “terrorist,” – earlier in October, the government put her on a “terrorist” list.
Since 6 September 2022, Nasta has served a total of six 15-day consecutive administrative sentences on trumped up “petty hooliganism” charges. On 24 December 2022, she was charged with “incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord” under notorious Article 130 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus and on 20 June sentenced to 7 years in prison.
She was tasered, threatened, and featured in a forced “confession” video as a form of digital degrading treatment which was spread across pro-government channels before she was even charged. Her home was searched two times. Her mother’s home was searched too. She spent 93 days in detention, repeatedly sentenced to “administrative arrests” while the authorities looked for a reason to bring criminal charges against her. The charge was ultimately found, and Nasta was accused of inciting hatred for preparing a human rights report in 2018 on the persecution of anarchists and leftists in Belarus. According to the prosecution, the group she was allegedly inciting hatred against was the police.
Belarusian state authorities continued to ignore both the letter of allegation sent by 5 Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention following Human Constanta’s appeal to these mandates, as well as the decision on interim measures, adopted by the Human Rights Committee in Nasta’s case.
Her lawyers were repeatedly arrested, disbarred, forced out of the country, and intimidated – hardly a surprising occurrence given en masse persecution of independent lawyers and outlawing of the human rights work in Belarus. Disbarment of human rights lawyers is one of the tools the authorities consistently employed to intimidate and persecute lawyers who represent human rights defenders, activists, democratic politicians, and survivors of torture and state-perpetrated human rights violations.
Any assistance to Nasta is punished as well: 2 people were arrested for 15 and 30 days for bringing her parcels with food and essentials. Now that she has been sentenced, she is only able to receive parcels from her 76-year old mother, her only family member. Moreover, as she was designated a “terrorist,” it will be impossible to make monetary transfers as those would be characterized as “financing terrorism.”
Today marks Nasta’s 394 days in detention and not seeing her beloved dog Eric, her pet penpal, she wrote a heartfelt letter to. “You will be forgotten” – that is what police officers told Nasta during one of the many interrogations. She is not. During her detention, she has received packages and parcels with food and essential supplies as a sign of support and solidarity from colleagues, friends, and people all over the world.
Nasta also continues her human rights work from behind bars: she helped dozens of other women cellmates to file complaints related to their cases. She also drafted a concept of prison reform in Belarus. This is a powerful reminder that persecution and imprisonment cannot force human rights defenders into ceasing their work.
In fact, their voices can be amplified not just through letters, but through technology and social media. While the authoritarian government is set on silencing human rights defenders, the Human Constanta team used AI to create Nasta’s animated digital avatar to raise awareness about human rights violations and political persecution of human rights defenders, demand accountability, and support those in detention. The “Human Show” podcast called “Waiting for Nasta” featuring her colleagues and friends also reminds the world about her work and unjustified detention.
“A young girl came up to me [at an event in honor of a human rights award] and said: “Hello, my name is Nasta. I graduated from law school, I’ve entered law school, and I would really like to do human rights work, but I don’t know how. Maybe you could give me some advice?” […] I told her, yes, of course, come to our Committee. She came to the Committee a couple of days later and we hired her. That became her first human rights work.”
Excerpt from “Waiting for Nasta” podcast, episode 1
“And then I asked, “Do you know exactly what you’re doing? This may be the last chance [to flee Belarus].” And Nasta replied very calmly that she was aware of all the risks, that she understood the situation, and that it was not blind stubbornness. In my mind, Nasta lives her life as a person with very high values, who is ready to stand by them to the end.”
Excerpt from “Waiting for Nasta” podcast, episode 2
We call on the Belarusian authorities for Nasta Lojka’s immediate and unconditional release and condemn the physical and psychological torture Nasta was subjected to by state agents. Nasta Lojka’s arrest, torture and imprisonment is a retaliation by the Belarus government for her peaceful and legitimate human rights work.
We continue to call upon the international community to take measures to urge the Belarusian authorities to respect their obligations towards human rights defenders, by raising awareness in various fora, publicly condemning human rights violations, requesting visits to human rights defenders in detention and inquiring with the Belarusian authorities about their health and detention conditions, demanding the release of imprisoned human rights defenders in bilateral and multilateral fora, exploring additional targeted measures against the individuals allegedly responsible for the torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and harassment of human rights defenders, and keeping the situation of defenders in Belarus high on the political agenda.
We also call to utilize and explore available mechanisms for holding the Belarusian authorities account for human rights abuses against human rights defenders, inter alia, by means of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction and inter-state complaints under relevant treaties, and through strengthening existing accountability mechanisms.
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Front Line Defenders
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House