Belarus may abolish death penalty soon - official

Belarus may abolish death penalty soon, a top Belarus official said Wednesday. Human rights activists have long been urging Belarus, the only country in Europe that still uses capital punishment, to give it up.

"We are practically one step away from banning death penalty," Deputy head of Belarus Supreme Court, Valery Kalinkovich, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

At the same time, Kalinkovich said the death penalty issue was out of Supreme Court's competence.

In 2008, only two death sentences were executed in Belarus, he said. At the same time, Amnesty International claims at least four people were executed and one more sentenced to death in 2008.

By unofficial estimates, up to 400 people were executed in Belarus since 1991, inciting criticism from human rights watchdogs.

"Prisoners on death row are told they will be executed only moments before the sentence is carried out,> Amnesty International says on its website. "They are shot in the back of the head. The body is not handed over to the family, who are informed only after the event, and the place of burial is kept secret causing further distress to relatives.>

The European Council has voiced possibility of including Belarus in its Eastern Partnership program, provided that the republic's authorities made steps towards democracy.

The council has recently prolonged sanctions imposed on Belarus, including an arms embargo and assets freeze. These had been introduced in 2006, following accusations that Lukashenko rigged the country's elections.



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