Belarus defies Council of Europe call for a moratorium

The authorities in Belarus continue to ignore international pressure on them to declare a moratorium on the death penalty, Amnesty International and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, said today. The two organizations have just learnt that the Brest regional court sentenced a 30-year-old man to death on 29 June.

The sentence was pronounced less than a week after the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly voted on 23 June in favour of restoring the Special Guest status to the Parliament of Belarus on the condition that Belarus declares a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty.

"The death sentence is clear evidence that there is no "de-facto moratorium" in Belarus as has been claimed by the government, and that we need to remain alert to the possibility that they continue to carry out death sentences", said Nicola Duckworth, Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme.

"It is high time Belarus joins the rest of Europe and Central Asia in turning its back on the death penalty by declaring an official moratorium as a first step towards abolishing it."

According to press reports two men (whose names were not given) were convicted of a series of murders of elderly single women committed between November 2007 and January 2008 in Drahichin district near Brest in the south-west of the country. The man sentenced to death reportedly carried out odd jobs for the elderly women using the opportunity to find out where their valuables were hidden, and then returned later and strangled them while his accomplice held them down. He was also convicted of having committed two further murders on his own. His accomplice has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Both men had been in detention since January 2009. The sentence has not yet taken effect and an appeal can now be made to the Supreme Court.

Amnesty International and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee oppose the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

On 21 January, the Prosecutor General, Gregory Vasilevich, announced to the press that there had been one death sentence in 2008, while on 25 June, the Chair of the Supreme Court, Valentin Sukala, announced that there had been two death sentences in 2008.

"There are no other sources of information available to the public, and such contradictions bear witness to the total absence of open and reliable data on the death penalty in Belarus", says Aleh Hulak, Chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.

Amnesty International and Belarusian Helsinki Committee once again call on the Belarusian authorities to put an end to the death penalty.



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