Judicial harassment against civil society is one of the most notorious weapons deployed by the Lukashenko regime to further stifle dissent and strengthen Alexander Lukashenko’s autocratic ruling. As of 13 April 2023, there are more than 1400 political prisoners in Belarus. The judiciary remains entirely at the dictator’s whim. The courts hold sham trials and hand down harsh verdicts for as little as a critical comment. Political prisoners are beaten, tortured and deprived of access to medical care; contact with their loved ones is clearly out of the question. The families of those jailed for fighting for democracy are silent victims of Lukashenko’s ruthless crackdown on civil society. Each prison sentence equals an abrupt and cruel separation that takes a painful toll on too many lives – of people, but also of animals.
Human rights defender Nasta Lojka has been facing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention, compounded by a smear campaign launched by the authorities. While Nasta has sustained incredible courage, stamina and dignity, being away from her family and her beloved dog is particularly difficult. ARTICLE 19 has decided to publish an extremely moving letter that Nasta wrote to her dog, named Eric. This letter clearly illustrates an exhausting plight that persecuted Belarusians continue to take up every day.
After a tumultuous time, Eric has finally found a new safe home in the Czech Republic.
Since the very first days of my stay at this temporary place of residence, I wanted to write you a farewell letter, but I could not find the strength, because it is painful and tearful.
But it is important to me to find closure regarding you and me.
When I see other dogs on TV, the black shepherd here in the detention centre, when I remember the sound of your footsteps in our apartment, your face on my bed asking to be pet, or how you lay on your belly in front of other dogs (your sign of reconciliation), or how you lay on the back asking me to pat your belly – I’m starting to cry! And I want these memories to evoke emotions of joy and a smile. I hope this letter will help this transformation to happen.
About memories. I remember very well how Marfa introduced us in the dog shelter near Hatava. You then roared at me with fear. But then you took a cookie from my hand. On that short walk, you pulled on the leash and walked in zigzags in front of me.
A week later we came to take you. Ira said that you were scary and that you looked like me. I laughed a lot. But we are somewhat similar – we had a difficult childhood, we don’t trust people and we don’t let everyone get close. And we love any dogs (except aggressive ones).
I remember how during the first couple of nights you licked my face and I woke up. There was so much gratitude in that. Then I taught you not to lick me, and you made up for it by licking other people, when you stopped being afraid of them.
I’m sorry that I didn’t pay much attention to you during the first months; it was due to work, books about dogs, and trips. I remember your fear of the sound of freight trains – it made you cringe at the wardrobe and doors. You quickly learned to walk by my side and to wait for me until evening.
Because of you, I finally moved out from my mother, you two were too afraid of each other. And we started a new life next to our favourite park.
I still remember how you ‘guarded’ the territory of the summer house during our rare visits, and I got angry from your barking.
I am very sorry that we will not see each other again (you will be 7 years old in July, and I will be in captivity for 7-8 years). I feel guilty that I didn’t save myself for you and that I was only able to devote less than 5 years to you.
It’s a pity that you/we won’t be able to see Ralph, Barez and our other beloved dogs in the neighbourhood anymore. But I believe and trust the people and dogs with whom you share your new life now.
It’s ironic that with your rustic and sheltered origins (which I’ve always been proud of), you ended up in the homeland of the dogs you look like: Bohemian Shepherds (this is Anelle’s invention).
The happiness of dogs is in bringing joy to their humans. I’m sorry that it’s not me anymore.
I hope that the rest of your life will be peaceful and happy. Because I have already placed a painful cross on my life.
To say goodbye (and as an excuse), I want to tell you something about the day of our last encounter, 28 October 2022.
Half an hour after leaving home at 3.30pm, I was standing in the corridor at 3 Revaliutsyjnaja Street, with my legs wide apart and my forehead against the wall (this is called a ‘swallow’). Apart from blows to my back and the sound of a stun gun, I was told that they would have to kill you – Mikalai Talkachou ‘did not want to risk his people’. But then the riot police allegedly offered another option – to give me 20 seconds to bring you into the shower room. I was crying and afraid; people with machine guns were walking down the stairs with me. In front of the door, the handcuffs were unlocked behind my back – and locked in front of my torso. My hands were shaking as I opened the door. Deep breathing only helped a little, and I expected you to immediately feel the danger in the presence of evil people. But you came out into the corridor towards me and happily waggled your tail. In handcuffs, I couldn’t even take you by the collar – I just opened the door to the shower and started asking you to come in there.
You didn’t understand anything – I almost never drove you into this room, too small for you. In desperation, I shouted at you and kicked you into the shower. The policemen blocked the door with a chair from the kitchen, because you were growling and crouching on the door in a narrow space. During the ‘examination’ of my apartment without my permission, they threw books and papers on your couch and bowls, while I sat motionless on the sofa, in complete apathy.
Before leaving, I begged them, once and again, to let you go. Now I don’t remember exactly what I said to you on farewell, but I definitely warned you that I was leaving for a long time. I started to cry as I was going down the stairs. And then you better not know what happened and what will happen to me.
Goodbye, dear dog. You are the most precious of what I had in my life. I will love you always.