Why Belarus Keeps Capital Punishment
On 27 June 2013, at the session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Belarusian authorities stated that Belarus would not abolish the death penalty and will continue to shoot convicts. Western demands to impose a moratorium seem to follow a certain ritual without any realistic expectations.
Belarus remains the only country in Europe and on the territory of the former Soviet Union which still uses the death penalty. The data provided by the Interior Ministry states that Belarusian courts sentenced 102 people to death between 1998 and 2010. The death penalty procedure remains so secret that the authorities do not even return the bodies of the executed. Several years ago two death convicts hung themselves in their cells in order to avoid being shot, so that the authorities would give their bodies to their families.
It should be noted that the idea of death penalty as a fair punishment remains quite popular in Belarus. On the other hand, the position of religious institutions and human rights defenders has become more noticeable in society. The recent speech of head of the Belarusian Orthodox Christians Filaret for the abolishment of the death penalty has become a considerable event in Belarus.
How Does Death Penalty Look Like
Execution by shooting remains the form of death penalty execution in Belarus. Most of the executed are criminals that committed crimes with aggravating circumstances. The aggravating circumstances usually mean the homicide of children or elderly people, pregnant women or homicides with rape. The authorities shoot from two to nine people annually – much less than in 1990s.
The decisin whether to sentence someone to capital punishment depends on a concrete judge. Andrei Zhuk, executed for a cruel homicide, wrote to his mother that the court sentenced one person for the similar crime to 25 years of imprisonment, another one – to life in prison, and him – to death.
Very often, about a year passes between the verdict until the actual execution. Aleh Alkayeu, former head of Minsk pre-trial detention centre and death sentences executor, describes the procedure of shootings in Belarus in details in his book “The Shooting Team”.
The Commission consisting of a Public Prosecutor, a Head of a detention centre and an Interior Ministry’s representative calls the deathrow convict to the office. In the office, the Commission informs about the rejection of the convict’s pardon appeal, then policemen put a black bandage on his eyes and lead him to the next office. There, the executioner brings the convict to his knees and shoots him in the back of the head. The whole procedure takes about two minutes.
The authorities never give the bodies of the executed to their relatives or inform them of the place of burial. Often, the relatives of the executed go around Minsk cemeteries in order to find fresh graves there, after having received written notification with information that the convict was dead. It gives no results. Relatives of one of the executed buried his personal belongings instead of the body and put a tomb stone just to have a place to commemorate the dead.
The UN Human Rights Committee demanded that the Belarusian authorities should give the bodies of the executed convicts to their families several times. However, the authorities continue to ignore these demands.
The Attitude of the Society
The death penalty has remained an issue of little importance for Belarusian society for many years. The problem of execution by shooting in Belarus proceeded to the national level only once, after the execution of Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou. The court sentenced them both to death for the blast in Minsk metro on 11 April 2011, which took the lives of 15 people.
According to the data provided by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, 37% of Belarusian population did not believe in the convicts’ guilt. This caused a wave of moods for abolition of death penalty in the society. According to IISEPS, since September 2012, 40.7% Belarusians stand up for the abolition of the death penalty, while 49.1% want to preserve it.
Human rights defenders and intellectuals stand for the death penalty's abolition rather prominently in Belarus. The Catholic Church and the Belarusian Orthodox Church raise their voices against the authorities’ policy very rarely, however, as for this issue, both denominations pursue tthe death penalty's abolition.
However, tBelarusian society still holds to the idea that the death penalty should remain. Moreover, the Belarusian authorities have some instruments of the informational influence over the people. When the state media systematically show the pictures of cruel murders, it raises the pro-death penalty mood amongst the populace almost automatically.
When Belarusian TV-viewers see Anders Breivik sitting in a leather arm-chair smiling, they think that it is not that Belarus should abolish the death penalty - rather it’s Europe that should introduce it. Read more
When Belarusian TV-viewers see Anders Breivik sitting in a leather arm-chair smiling, they think that it is not that Belarus should abolish the death penalty – rather it is Europe that should introduce it. In such situations, Belarusian society sees the attempts of human rights defenders to stop the death penalty as a step of solidarity with murderers, not as an act of humanity.
Will Belarus Abolish the Death Penalty?
The European Union has been trying to convince Belarus to abolish the death penalty for a long time. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe set up the introduction of a Moratorium as the only condition for returning the status of specially invited to Belarus. Belarus lost this status in 1996, when the referendum made the death penalty legal. The West did not recognise the results of that referendum.
Belarus has shown no reaction to the demands of the European structures so far. The officials often say privately that “Let the EU and the Council of Europe teach the U.S. some humanity, and then demand something from Belarus”.
Although as the chart above shows, the number of executions has dropped significantly since 1990s, Alexander Lukashenka personally often said he would not go for the introduction of a moratorium as most Belarusians would object. Also, the Belarusian leader has no plans to become a member of the Council of Europe, as it would bring no major benefits for his regime. If Lukashenka wants to mend the relations with the West, he would release political prisoners and it would be enough.
Neither the Belarusian authorities nor society seems to be ready for the death penalty's abolition yet. It may take a while before Belarus will stop being the only country in Europe using death penalty.
The Orthodox Church Says “No” To Death Penalty – Belarus Press Review
Will a new presidential decree impose the ideological control on performers in Belarus? The Belarusian Orthodox Church gives a loud "no" to capital punishment. Who can improve the problematic relations with Ukraine? Over the last two weeks Belarusian press covered a wide range of topics.
The head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church says "no" to capital punishment. Business-oriented Belarusy i Rynok weekly reports that the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Christians Filaret spoke out against the death penalty during a round table that recently took place. Apart from the Orthodox Church, the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, legislative and judiciary authorities, delegates from the Council of Europe, diplomats and human right activists participated in the event.
As the newspaper reports his words "We, Christians, cannot legitimise capital punishment since this is the sin of murder (…) We, sinful people, are not to grant life to a person, neither we should decide about a person's existence."
The newspaper notes also that before the Orthodox Church remained "heard less" than the Catholic Church when it came to public discussions of death penalty in Belarus. In 2011, aftermath the death sentence of Vladislav Kovalev and Dmitrii Konovalov, the head of Belarusian Roman Catholics, Tadeusz Kondrusievich, appealed for a moratorium for the convicted for the explosion in the Minsk metro. The newspaper noted that the top cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church (to which Belarusian Orthodox Church belongs), patriarch Kirill spoke out against capital punishment, other than in certain situations, for example against terrorists.
Ideological control of performers? Daily Narodnaja Volia comments upon the newest decree of Alexander Lukashenka on cultural events. According to the new law, organisers of any cultural event will need to apply for a special permission from the Department of Ideology, Culture and Youth Affairs in advance. Foreign performers will have to make a payment to a special presidential fund supporting talented youth.
Belarus-Vatican relations. The state-run daily Sovetskaya Belarusiya reports on a meeting between Alexander Lukashenka with the Apostolic Nuncio, Claudio Geggerotti. As the newspaper notes, both countries are conducting a "constructive dialogue" and their relations remain warm. In Lukashenka's words, "I am thankful for the Catholic Church and Vatican for its support … on the international arena. Primarily, in the establishment of a dialogue with the European Union". The newspaper reports that he made an open invitation for a Papal visit to Belarus.
Makei can travel to the European Union. Komsomolskaya Pravda comments upon recent lifting of visa restrictions from Belarus Minister of Foreign Affairs, Uladzimir Makei. The Belarusian official had remained on the EU "black list" since the 2010 presidential elections when he headed Lukashenka’s administration. According to the newspaper, the visa restrictions against a representative of the foreign ministry was "diplomatic nonsense". In its words "firstly, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs was lead by a diplomat who could not obtain a Schengen visa, and as a consequence, he could not meet with his colleagues". Now Makei will be able to participate in the direct meetings of the Council of the EU which will simplify diplomatic relations between EU and Belarus.
According to an expert quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda, the recent decision of Brussels means that the EU has started to talk in public to the Belarusian authorities. Lifting the travel restrictions on the minister of foreign affairs will allow him to participate not only in the autumn summit of Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, but also in other meetings.
Forbidden flag as national heritage. Daily Nasha Niva informs that BMAgroup, Art Siadziba and Rock-Salidarnasc started collecting signatures for a petition to the Ministry of Culture. The activists want the white-red-white flag to be on the list of symbols of historical-cultural heritage. The newspaper stated that the action takes place within another action that aims at the popularisation of the national symbols of Belarus, white-red-white flag and emblem of "Pahonia". The results of the campaign will be known 27 July.
Bitter-sweet Belarus-Ukraine wars. Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta writes about an ongoing crisis in the relations between two countries. It started in the beginning of April when the Belarusian customs did not allow the Ukrainians to transport confectionery goods through the territory of Belarus. The newspaper writes that Ukrainian exports to Belarus confectionery for $60m per year and remains the fourth largest market for the Ukrainian sweets that is more over 5 per cent of total exports in 2012.
The newspaper goes further to share that politicians have already discussed the confectionery issue at the inter-governmental level. Recent tensions may indicate, however, deeper problems that "should not be postponed to the future". Economic relations between Belarus and Ukraine have been mostly positive for both countries, but the trade wars in the sphere of oil and confectionery broke out and have soiled relations.
The World Congress of Russian Press. Nasha Niva reports how Alexander Lukashenka has opened the World Congress of Russian Press. As the newspaper put it, "the foundations of Belarusian statehood and that what is used to be called as the Belarusian model of development, are laid in the particular spiritual values and cultural progress which the Russian civilisation, the Russian world has given". Lukashenka highlighted also the role of Russian language for Belarus, as well as for Ukraine.