Executed prisoners receive funerals

Belarus is the last country in Europe and the former Soviet Union to carry out the death penalty.

In Belarus, prisoners on death row are only informed of the execution a few moments before their execution. They are taken to a room where, in the presence of the prison director, the public prosecutor, and another member of the Interior Ministry, they are told that their pardon has been denied and the death sentence is now being carried out. Then they are taken to an adjoining room. There they are forced to kneel and shot in the back of the head. The body is then not handed over to the families. In most cases, relatives are not informed of the execution until after the execution. They are not informed of the place of burial.

Information about the death penalty is a state secret in Belarus. Due to the secrecy, neither reliable data on the number of death sentences and executions can be collected, nor the identity of all death row inmates can be clarified. Since independence in 1991, around 400 people in Belarus are said to have been sentenced to death and executed.

Four death sentences were carried out in Belarus in 2008. There were reportedly no executions in 2009. In March 2010, however, two people who had been sentenced to death for multiple murders were executed again. Also in July 2011 there was probably at least one execution in Belarus. In 2012 at least three prisoners were executed.

In March 2012, Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzslau Kavalyou were executed. The charges against them were related to a number of bomb attacks, including the one on a Minsk subway station on April 11, 2011. There were serious doubts about the fairness of the trial against the two men.

There were no known executions in Belarus in 2013. However, at least four new death sentences have been passed against Eduard Lykau, Rygor Yuzepchuk, Pavel Selyun and Alyaksandr Haryunou. During 2014, at least three of these death sentences were carried out: Pavel Selyun, Rygor Yuzepchuk and Alyaksandr Haryunou were executed. There is no reliable information about the time of Eduard Lykau's execution. However, the Belarusian human rights organization Viasna believes that Lykau was also executed in 2014.

No execution was reported in 2015, but at least two new death sentences followed - Siarhei Ivanou in March and Ivan Kulesh in November. In 2016, at least four other death sentences were passed and four people were executed: Gennadii Yakovitskii was sentenced to death in January, Siarhei Khmialeuski in February, Siarhei Vostrykau in May and Kiryl Kazachok in December. Siarhei Ivanou was executed in April 2016; Ivan Kulesh, Siarhei Khmialeuski and Gennadii Yakovitskii were sentenced to death in November 2016.

Two more death sentences were carried out in 2017: Siarhei Vostrykau was executed in April and Kiryl Kazachok was executed in October. In 2017, at least four new death sentences were passed: in March against Aliaksei Mikhalenya, in July against Ihar Hershankou and Siamion Berazhnoy, and in September against Viktar Liotau.

In January 2018, Viachaslau Sukharko and Aliaksandr Zhylnikau were sentenced to death. Aliaksei Mikhalenya and Viktar Liotau were reported to have been sentenced to death in mid-May 2018. In June 2018, the Belarus Supreme Court suspended the death sentences of Ihar Hershankou and Siamion Berazhnoy for a month in an unprecedented move. However, at the end of November 2018, both were executed.

In January 2019, Alyaksandr Asipovich was sentenced to death. The verdict was upheld in May. In December 2019, Alyaksandr Asipovich was executed. In June 2019, it became known that the judgment against Aliaksandr Zhylnikau had been carried out. No official information is available on the fate of his co-defendant Viachaslau Sukharko. In Belarus, however, people sentenced to death are usually executed together in a timely manner. On July 30, 2019, Viktar Paulau was sentenced to death by the Vitebsk regional court. The Supreme Court of Belarus upheld the verdict on November 12, 2019. On October 25, 2019, Viktar Serhil was sentenced to death by the Brest Regional Court. The death sentence against him was upheld by the Supreme Court in late January 2020. Thus Viktar Paulau and Viktar Serhil are in imminent danger of being executed.

On January 10, 2020, the two brothers Illia and Stanislau Kostseu, 21 and 19 years old, were sentenced to death by the Mahiliou Regional Court. Viktar Skrundzik was also reportedly sentenced to death in March 2020. This means that at least five people in Belarus are currently at risk of execution.

If you would like to take a personal stand against the death penalty in Belarus, you will find current letter templates and petitions from Amnesty International on the Petitions page. More information on the death penalty in Belarus can be found on this page and in the following reports:

The Amnesty Death Penalty Report 2019 (as of April 2020) can be found here as a pdf in English.
Facts and figures on the death penalty 2019 (as of April 2020) as a short overview in German can be found here in pdf format.

German-language overview of the death penalty worldwide (as of April 2020)
German-language presentation on the death penalty in Belarus (2018)
Interview with Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign human rights defenders against the death penalty, Viasna Human Rights Center, Belarus (2018)

You can also find films and short videos on the subject in the Materials section.

DEVELOPMENT

The area of ​​today's Republic of Belarus belonged to different states over the centuries, in which there were repeated attempts to restrict or even abolish the death penalty. For example, a decree of the Russian Tsarina Catherine II from 1794 has come down to us, according to which torture and the death penalty should be abolished in the Belarusian territories. However, the death penalty was gradually reintroduced after that, first in 1812 for certain war crimes, then in 1832 for serious state crimes.

In the second half of the 19th century, between 10 and 50 people were executed by the state every year in the Russian Empire. Towards the end of the 19th century, there was growing social support for an abolition of the death penalty. This stance did not take hold, but the trend is evident in the 1903 Criminal Code, which severely restricted the use of the death penalty. However, after the revolution of 1905, the number of executions rose rapidly to thousands a year. After the February Revolution in 1917 the death penalty was abolished, reintroduced in July, abolished after the October Revolution, reintroduced in the summer of 1918 to fight the "enemies of the revolution", abolished in 1947 under Stalin, in 1954 initially as a punishment for murder under aggravating circumstances, then reintroduced for more and more facts. When Belarus becomes independent, the laws of the Belarusian SSR apply, which provide for the death penalty for over 30 crimes.

Belarus has since reduced the number of crimes that could be punished by death under the Soviet Penal Code of 1961. For example, on July 6, 1993, Parliament lifted the death penalty for four offenses relating to economic crimes and replaced it with a maximum of 15 years in prison without the right to parole. However, Belarus has also added new crimes to the list of deadly crimes. When the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva in October 1997 discussed the fourth periodical report of the Belarusian government on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it lamented the adoption of decrees that set out new crimes with possible death penalty, such as the decree of the President No. 21 of October 21, 1997 “On the fight against terrorism”.

A parliamentary hearing on the death penalty was held in May 2002. A number of influential lawyers, including the chairman of the Constitutional Court, spoke out in favor of the abolition of the death penalty on the occasion, but could not prevail.

On November 4, 2003, the Belarusian parliament turned to the Constitutional Court to ask whether the death penalty was compatible with the Belarusian constitution and international standards. On March 11, 2004, the Constitutional Court ruled that some articles of Belarusian criminal law were neither constitutional nor consistent with international law. The Constitutional Court also stated that under these circumstances it was necessary to abolish the death penalty or at least to impose a moratorium on executions.

In 2010, Belarusian officials agreed to work with the international community on the death penalty. In February 2010 a parliamentary working group was set up on this issue. In September 2010 the government admitted to the UN Human Rights Council that the abolition of the death penalty was necessary. She declared her intention to publicly work towards its abolition and to continue working with the international community in this regard. Despite this, death sentences continued to be passed and carried out. In December 2010 Belarus abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly on a worldwide moratorium on executions.

In January 2013, the chairman of the Belarusian Constitutional Court stressed that the question of a moratorium on the death penalty in Belarus was still open and that the court would deal with the issue if requests were made.

In June 2013, the parliamentary working group on the death penalty held a round table in Minsk together with the Council of Europe. There, the exarch of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Filaret, spoke out in favor of the abolition of the death penalty.

THE DEATH PENALTY IN BELARUSSIAN OPINION POLLS

In October 2013, the non-governmental organization “Strafreform International” and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee published polls according to which 64% of Belarusians support the death penalty when asked directly about it. On the other hand, 31% rejected it. The percentage of supporters of the death penalty is thus significantly lower than in a referendum held in 1996 on the question that the Belarusian government refers to regularly, and in which 80% of those involved spoke out in favor of the death penalty. In 1996, the main motivation of the proponents was the fear of crime and the hope - unconfirmed by facts - that the death penalty would bring more security.

There is also broad support for alternative measures, such as life imprisonment or a moratorium on the death penalty. According to the survey, only 37% of respondents “fully” support the death penalty. When asked what should be done with the death penalty, 47% of those involved replied that it should continue to exist or even be expanded. However, 45% stressed that the death penalty should be abolished immediately or gradually, or that there should be a moratorium on executions. The most common reasons for opposition to the death penalty were the inviolability of human life and the risk of legal errors.

LEGAL BASIS

Belarus imposes the death penalty for a long list of crimes: twelve in peacetime and two in wartime. The criminal offenses are: "Unleashing or waging a war of aggression" (Art. 122 Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code of Belarus), "Murder of a representative of a foreign state or an international organization with the aim of sparking international tensions or a war" (Art. 124 para. 2), "international terrorism" (Art. 126), "genocide" (Art. 127), "crimes against humanity" (Art. 128), "intentional murder in aggravating circumstances" (139 para. 2) , "Terrorism" (Art. 289 para. 3), "Terrorist acts" (Art. 359), "High treason combined with murder" (Art. 356 para. 2), "Conspiracy to seize power" (Art. 357 Art. 3), “Sabotage” (Art. 360 Paragraph 2), “Murder of a Police Officer” (Art. 362), “Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction” (Art 134) and “Murder of a person in violation of international and customary law in War "(Art. 135 Para. 3).

In all cases the death penalty is optional, i.e. it is left to the discretion of the court. Virtually all death sentences in Belarus are imposed for “premeditated murder in aggravating circumstances”. The death penalty is intended as an alternative to life imprisonment or long (15-25 years) imprisonment. It is not imposed on women or men under 18 or over 65 years of age. In recent years, death sentences have only been pronounced for murder.

COURT PROCEEDINGS

As long as the death penalty is upheld, the risk of an innocent person being executed can never be ruled out. This risk is particularly high in Belarus, as the judicial system in Belarus has serious deficiencies. In Belarus, trials often take place in camera. Confessions are sometimes obtained through torture and ill-treatment. Appeals are permissible against death sentences passed by district courts in the first instance. The highest court of appeal is the Supreme Court. However, criminals are sometimes tried and convicted directly before the Supreme Court, i.e. before the highest court. In these cases there is no possibility to appeal to a higher court. Since 1999 there has been an option for the president to commute a death sentence to life imprisonment in the event of a pardon. The exact process is secret. Since taking office in 1994, President Lukashenko is said to have only consented to a petition for clemency.

In October 2013, the death sentence of 25-year-old Alyaksandr Haryunou was referred back to the previous instance by the Supreme Court for retrial after his attorney appealed, among other things, to violations of a fair trial. Observers from non-governmental organizations called this practice "unprecedented". In December 2013, however, Alyaksandr Haryunou was sentenced to death again by the competent regional court and executed in 2014.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CALLS FOR

  • Immediately commute all death sentences to long prison terms.
  • Adopt a moratorium on the death penalty aimed at the complete abolition of the death penalty.
  • To fully inform the public in Belarus about the death penalty and thus prepare for the abolition of the death penalty.
  • Improve detention conditions, including death row detention, and bring them in line with international standards.
  • To hand over the bodies of the executed persons to the relatives for burial or to inform them of the place of burial.