What do political prisoners, female human rights defenders persecuted by the belarusian regime?
The names of 27-year-old Marfa Ryabkova and 33-year-old Nasta Loika have already become well-known in Belarusian human rights movements. Marfa Ryabkova was the winner of the National Human Rights Defender of the Year Award in 2021 and Nasta was its winner in 2022. Both were nominated on the shortlists when they were already behind prison bars.
These young women have done a huge amount of worthy causes to help people, but this is what is “rewarded” in Belarus with years in prison. What are the famous female human rights defenders who are so persecuted by the state?
Both Nasta Loika and Marfa Ryabkova were helping political prisoners before the events of 2020. Nastia started her job at Viasna¢s Volunteer Center and Marfa coordinated it until her detention. They wrote sheets of paper for political prisoners and took them to pre-trial detention centres. When Marfa herself was imprisoned, she wrote in letters from prison that she was now gaining practical «experience» of how to collect better packages in the future. Also, before her detention, Marfa volunteered at a cat shelter and tried to help them. Nasta took her friend, Eriko the sheepdog, from the shelter.
Friend of the Volunteer Service went to the trials of political prisoners in order to be able to find out the results of politically motivated criminal cases. This is necessary to understand the scale of repression within the country and to keep track of violations of human rights to a fair trial and protection, freedom from torture and others. It was after one of Marfa’s trials that Nasa Loika was once again detained for standing up for the aunt of one of the defendants.
They both continue to believe in people and solidarity, even in prison. “I have seen so many good and bright faces, I have seen so many real people that I am sure that we will definitely overcome everything, there is no other way,” Marfa said in her last statement at the trial.
Monitoring of peaceful assemblies
As part of her human rights activities, Marfa Ryabkova, together with volunteers, observed peaceful assemblies in Belarus and took part in the independent observation campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”. During the campaign, the young woman counted the protesters and the policemen, recorded the circumstances of the assemblies and the attitude of the police to the protesters. This is necessary so that the experts, having received this data, could assess whether the assembly was peaceful and to what extent the authorities guaranteed the freedom of people to assemble peacefully – this is guaranteed also by the rights of any person (Article 20 of the Declaration of Human Rights, Article 35 of the Constitution of Belarus).
Nastia Loiko was one of those who created a monitoring network as a form of control over the implementation of rights and freedoms by citizens and recording violations of human rights by the state – the company #ControlBY. “We needed an observation mechanism that would objectively and multilaterally collect information in order to work with state authorities to improve the situation,” she said. Ales Bialiatski (awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize) emphasised that observers record history through their activities.
Human rights education
Sometimes repressed people want to assert their rights and freedoms, but don’t know how to do so. In such cases, Nasta Loika and Marfa Ryabkova have assisted people to understand the basics: what their rights and freedoms have been violated and how they can be defended. Nasta Loika helped to write complaints to the repressed in several organizations: “Solidarność”, “Viasna” and then «Human Constantа”, of which she was a co-founder. Within the framework of the last organisation, Nasta worked on the rights of foreigners and non-citizens, digital rights, non-discrimination and human rights education. During her studies at EHU, Marfa was trained to write complaints to the Human Rights Committee, among other things.
Of course, this is far from all of the human rights activities that the young women were engaged in prior to their detention – it is impossible to outline the full scope of work that has developed in their lives in the framework of one piece. However, these facts alone focus attention on the fact that the Belarusian authorities are not properly fulfilling their responsibility to promote human rights and the people who actively defend them – this is what the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted for 25 years ago.
Other female human rights defenders have also faced criminal persecution: Tatiana Lasitsa and Olga Gorbunova, who have already been released. Others have faced various forms of criminal prosecution: searches, detention for “Sutki” (at least 24 hours in police detention center), numerous of them have been forced to move out of Belarus.
Marfa Ryabkova was detained in September 2020 when she was returning home after the presentation of the Viasna Human Rights Award. She was kept in a pre-trial detention center for almost two years, the trial dragged on for four and a half months. Marfa was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a colony. Nasta Loika was detained in October 2022, at first she received “days” several times in a row, until at the end of December she was charged under two criminal articles. When the trial will take place is unknown.
You can support very brave young female activists at:
СІЗА-1. 220030, Minsk, st. Valadarskaga, 2
- Анастасія Юр’еўна Лойка
- Марыя Аляксандраўна Рабкова
Write them a letter!