On 11 January, Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House hosted an awarding ceremony in Vilnius. The event was supposed to happen on December 10, International Human Rights Day, but was postponed due to the death of Belarusian Helsinki Committee chair Aleh Hulak.
Aksana Kolb, editor-in-chief of the Novy Chas newspaper, won the award in the category “Journalist of the Year 2022”. Volha Harbunova, activist and former head of Radislava NGO, received the prize in her name and passed the journalist’s words that the award was a merit of the entire Novy Chas team.
“Freedom of speech cannot be put behind bars,” Aksana Kolb believes.
The Journalist of the Year nomination recognizes a journalist or blogger who has most actively and vividly covered human rights issues in Belarus over the past year, or whose publications, TV, or radio broadcasts had the greatest public response or influence on the resolution of the situation with human rights or fundamental freedoms in the country.
Aksana Kolb was detained on 20 April 2022 following a police raid on her home. She was charged with organizing actions that grossly violate public order and sentenced to 2.5 years of freedom restriction. The journalist left Belarus.
The award in the category “Defender of the Year 2022” was given to Nasta Loyka. As noted by the Viasna Human Rights Center, the winner defended the rights of foreign nationals and stateless persons, as well as monitored the anti-extremism legislation and practice. She made a great contribution to non-formal education.
Nasta Loyka was detained in October 2022 and put in custody for organizing or participating in actions that grossly violate public order.
According to Human Constanta NGO, during her detention, Nasta was taken for interrogation to the Main Directorate of Combating Organized Crime and Corruption where she was tased, and on 11 November, a guard of the temporary detention center made her stay in the yard without clothes for eight hours. As a result, the activist got seriously ill but was refused medical care.
The International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus won the prize in the category “Human Rights Campaign (Initiative) of the Year”.
“Unfortunately, I am the only public person on the committee, but I want to thank my colleagues for their work. When the committee was created in 2020, no one could imagine that we would work even harder in 2023. After all, torture continues,” Viktoryia Fiodarava said at the awards ceremony.
The committee was created in 2020 in the aftermath of the 2020 elections in Belarus. The organization works in compliance with international standards and is a member of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, a coalition of NGOs that have joined forces to collect, consolidate, check and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations, allegedly committed by the Belarusian authorities and other persons before and following the 2020 presidential elections.
Representatives of the organization are confident that the more facts and evidence they manage to collect, the more perpetrators can be brought to justice.