For some in Belarus, Independence Day might be their last

As Belarus marks Independence Day today, three men have been left wondering if it will be their last.

Belarus is the only European country that continues to use the death penalty. In 2012 the Belarusian government executed at least three men, including Uladzslau Kavalyou and Dzimitry Kanavalau - two men allegedly involved in a series of bomb attacks in the country the year before. But the conditions around the trials and executions of Uladzslau and Dzimitry are murky.

Both men were denied the right to appeal their sentences – a violation of international law. The Belurussian President ignored requests for clemency and previously, before his police had even questioned the two men, the President had claimed both had confessed to being involved in an attack. When they were later questioned, it was under duress – both claimed to have beaten, and told that they’d be shot. Uladszlau later retracted his statement.

A few months on, his mother and sister received a letter informing them that Uladszlau had been executed by being shot in the back of the head. This is standard procedure in Belarus: prisoners are usually told of their impending execution hours or even minutes before it happens, their families notified of their relatives’ execution days or months after their death. Uladszlau's body has never been returned to his family.

So far this year, Belarus sentenced three people to death: Rygor Yuzepchuk was sentenced on 24 April while Pavel Selyun and Alyaksandr Haryunou were sentenced on 12 and 14 June respectively.

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus is now due to consider their appeals. If this fails, they will have a last chance to apply to President Lukashenka for clemency. However, he has reportedly only ever granted one stay of execution since he came to power in 1994.

Our Belarus campaigner Svetlana recently talked to Tamara Selyun, the mother of Pavel Selyun, and she is prepared to fight for justice. Her son is being detained in the Investigation Isolation Prison (SIZO) No. 1 in the city of Hrodna. Tamara, who lives over 300 km away from the jail, told me that she has to travel all night by train and bus to see her son, and take food parcels to him.

She has not received any letters from him since he was sentenced to death on 12 June, and is concerned he may commit suicide. When she called the detention centre she wasn’t given any information about her son. She was just told that if he does not write it means that “he doesn’t want to write to her”.

These three men have been convicted for serious crimes, but the death penalty isn't a solution to crime and it won’t bring their victims back to life.

The death penalty violates the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and it should not be used by any government in the world.

The Belarusian authorities must commute these death sentences immediately and make Europe and Central Asia a death penalty free zone.

As a very first step, and pending full abolition, Belarus must end the cruel secrecy surrounding the use of the death penalty.

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