The trial against our colleague human rights defender Anastasia Loika (Nasta Lojka) is beginning in the Minsk City Court on 13 June 2023 at 10-30 a.m. Anastasia Loika is a prominent Belarusian human rights defender actively engaged in human rights, paying specific attention to the issues of anti-discrimination and equality, fair trial, rights of foreigners and stateless persons, and non-formal human rights education. She is a renowned expert on the freedom of assembly, legal mechanisms of human rights protection, trial monitoring, volunteer management, as well as combating hate speech and hate crimes. Since September 2022, Anastasia has been in captivity for her human rights defending activities.
Anastasia is charged of violating Article 130 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, which criminalizes incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord. This article provides for a maximum penalty of up to 12 years in prison. According to the investigation, the group against which such enmity or discord was allegedly incited is a professional social group of law enforcement officers: Anastasia’s one of the human rights reports contains a negative assessment of the illegal actions of police officers which became the basis for bringing criminal charges against her. Such interpretation of the article is not in line with international human rights standards, as illustrated by the practice of international judicial bodies. For instance, the European Court of Human Rights, in its Savva Terentyev v. Russia decision of 28 August 2018, stated that law enforcement officers cannot be considered a vulnerable social group in cases when “incitement of enmity” is alleged and do not need increased protection from harsh comments, especially in conditions when such comments constitute lawful criticism regarding unjustified or unlawful behavior of civil servants.
The primary responsibility for the protection of human rights defenders lies with States, which have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all, including human rights defenders. An integral part of this obligation is ensuring effective protection of the physical integrity, liberty, security, and dignity of human rights defenders as well as the provision of other aspects of a safe and enabling environment for their human rights work. This requires the realization of a variety of fundamental rights and freedoms that are necessary to carry out human rights work, such as the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the right to participate in public affairs. Preparing an analytical report on issues of interest and value to Belarusian society is a professional duty of a human rights defender and the realization of Anastasia’s right of free expression. By recognizing such expression as “incitement of social enmity or discord” the State is depriving human rights defenders of their fundamental right to express opinion when such opinion is critical of State authorities’ actions.
We, representatives of Belarusian and international human rights organizations, strongly condemn the politically motivated trial against Anastasia Loika, the purpose of which is to punish her for her long-term human rights activities and conceal the facts of human rights violations by the Belarusian regime. We demand the immediate release of Anastasia Loika and all political prisoners, as well as the cessation of permanent repressions accompanied by human rights violations.