Belarus: arrest, detention and sentencing on administrative offences of Uladzimir Tseliapun and Nasta Loika (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Government of Belarus on 17 November 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

Since the communication was sent, the Special Rapporteur has received information that Nasta Loika had been sent to pre-trial detention and charged with two criminal offences.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: administrative detention of Mr. Uladzimir Tseliapun and Ms. Nasta Loika.

Mr. Uladzimir Tseliapun is a human rights defender working in Mazyr, Belarus, on the intersection of environmental and access to information issues, focusing particularly on access to information related to the Chernobyl disaster. Mr. Tseliapun’s work also focused on fair elections and local community gatherings.

Ms. Nasta Loika is a woman human rights defender who has been focusing on repressive “anti-extremist” laws, and on the protection of the migrants and stateless people rights in Belarus. She previously worked with the NGO Human Constanta, which was shut down in the summer of 2021.

ALLEGATIONS

The case of Mr. Uladzimir Tseliapun

On 3 September 2022, Mr. Tseliapun was arrested. On 6 September 2022 the Mazyr District Court sentenced the human rights defender to 10 days of administrative detention for “circulating extremist information on Facebook” under article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The information on which the prosecution is based refers to a link posted by Mr. Tseliapun on Facebook on 18 October 2021. It is a link leading to “Polelsye”, a Belarusian online media outlet that the government outlawed and labelled as extremist.

On 16 September 2022, the Mazyr District Court sentenced him to 15 days of administrative detention for the same offence in the temporary detention facility in Mazyr.

Mr. Tseliapun’s health has been deteriorating due to existing heart problems and the fact that he is reported to be detained in a cell with people with signs of respiratory disease. The other inmates in his cell reportedly have fevers, and the cell window is allegedly broken, leading to extremely low temperatures.

It is also reported that he has not been given a mattress nor bed linen. Mr. Tseliapun is not allowed to take daily walks and has no access to shower. At night, the bright lighting in the cell is kept on, and every two hours throughout the night the staff of the temporary detention facility force the detainees to stand up and give their names. Mr. Tseliapun is only allowed to move in handcuffs outside his cell. According to reports, the police refused to accept warm clothes and medication meant for Mr. Tseliapun, from his relatives.

Mr. Tseliapun reportedly has no access to a lawyer in the temporary detention facility. He can only communicate with his lawyer during court sessions.

The case of Ms. Nasta Loika

On 6 September 2022, Belarusian law enforcement officials arrested and detained Ms. Loika near the premises of the Minsk City Court. On 7 September 2022 she was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest, on “petty hooliganism” charges, a violation under article 19.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The arrest of Ms. Nasta Loika took place as she was leaving a court hearing on the “Revolutionary Action”, related to the sentencing of a group of individuals, including human rights defenders, to lengthy prison sentences.

On 22 September 2022, the Frunze District Court in Minsk sentenced Ms. Nasta Loika to another 15 days of administrative arrest on “petty hooliganism” charges, under the same article. Ms. Loika was not present in court, and she also reportedly did not have access to her lawyer, as the court denied the motion to invite her attorney. It is reported that Ms. Loika was unable to receive any medication, warm clothes, nor hygiene necessities in detention due to the transfer services interruption to Okrestina Detention Center. On 6 October 2022, she was released from jail.

On 28 October 2022, three weeks after Ms. Loika was released from detention after serving two consecutive sentences, she was arrested for the third time. On the day of her arrest, a “forced confession video” appeared showing Ms. Loika in handcuffs giving unofficial testimony about her engagement in human rights work, including her work with Human Constanta. The location and the source of this video are not clear. The video was circulated on a Telegram channel along with other discrediting information, in what appears to be a smear campaign aimed at vilifying Ms. Loika for her human rights work.

On 31 October 2022, Ms. Loika was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest, and, on 14 November 2022, she was sentenced to another 15 days of administrative arrest on charges of “petty hooliganism” under article 19.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Republic of Belarus. Her sanctioning was grounded in unsubstantiated allegations against Ms. Loika’s behaviors under arrest and detention, which was considered by the court to be “in breach of public order” and “showing disrespect to the society.” The motions of the defense were not satisfied during the hearing.

It is reported that, during her detention at Okrestina, Ms. Loika has been taken twice to the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) for questioning, where the police officers hit her with a stun gun, causing electric shock. Moreover, in detention, Ms. Loika has been subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment and held in unhygienic and inadequate conditions. She was prevented from receiving any packages, including medication. Ms. Loika remains imprisoned without warm clothes and hygienic essentials.

It is also reported that Ms. Loika’s health deteriorated after she was forced to the inner yard of the Okrestina Detention Center, on 11 November 2022, and kept there for 8 hours with no outerwear in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius. The cold, in combination with lack of access to medical assistance and poor diet, undermine her recovery and further endanger her health.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express our serious concern over the arrest, detention and sentencing on administrative offences of Mr. Tseliapun and Ms. Loika which appear to be in retaliation of their work as human rights defenders, and for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.

We express further concerns about the conditions in detention of Mr. Tseliapun in light of his pre-existing health condition.

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