Belarus: three prisoners executed in sudden death row 'purge'

Relatives of one man only learnt of his death by shooting when they made routine prison visit
 
Country is ‘final frontier’ of capital punishment in Europe - the only country to still carry out executions
 
Powerful short film launches new drive to abolish death penalty in Belarus
 
As many as three of the four men on death row in the Belarusian capital Minsk have been executed in a “shameful” death row “purge” since 5 November, Amnesty International revealed today after confirming the information with local activists.
 
According to the Belarusian NGO Viasna, since 5 November, Siarhei Khmialeuski, Ivan Kulesh and possibly Hyanadz Yakavitski have all been executed with a gunshot to the back of the head. The fate of the fourth man on death row - Siarhei Vostrykau, sentenced to death on 19 May - is currently unknown.
 
Yesterday, relatives of 31-year-old Siarhei Khmialeuski arrived at the SIZO No1 prison in Minsk to visit him on death row, only to be informed he’d been executed on an unknown date in recent weeks. They had not received letters from him for more than a month, but the prison administration accepted a payment in his name last week. His death sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court on 6 May, for the murder of at least two people in the capital Minsk. 
 
Siarhei Khmialeuski’s execution came swiftly after two others in recent weeks. Ivan Kulesh, who had his death sentence upheld on 29 March for murder and robbery, was executed on 5 November. Hyanadz Yakavitski, sentenced to death on 5 January for the murder of his partner, is also believed to have been executed this month – his fate will be revealed in the coming days when his daughter attempts to visit him on death row. 
 
The sudden string of executions comes after a long hiatus in Belarus. Before this month, only one person had been executed in the last two years - Siarhei Ivanou on 18 April this year.
 
Aisha Jung, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Belarus who recently returned from Minsk, said: 
 
“Purging death row of its prisoners is an appalling measure for any country to take. But it is additionally shameful in Belarus, where executions are typically shrouded in secrecy and carried out at a moment’s notice.
 
“This sudden spike in executions is especially surprising in Belarus, the death penalty’s final frontier in Europe, since many believed the country was on track to eliminate capital punishment for good.
 
“The Belarusian authorities take the inherent injustice of the death penalty to appalling extremes. The justice system puts immense psychological strain on the families of those it puts to death.”
 

Relatives not told of loved ones’ executions

Data on the death penalty in Belarus is classified as a state secret. According to the country’s Ministry of Justice, 245 people were sentenced to death from 1994 to 2014 - though human rights NGOs believe that some 400 people have been executed since the country’s independence in 1991.
 
In Belarus, the relatives of death row prisoners are typically not given advance warning or granted a final meeting before an execution takes place. In many cases, families first learn of their relative’s death only when they receive a parcel with the loved one’s prison boots and uniform. They are required to collect death certificates from the Belarusian authorities. The bodies of the executed are not returned to relatives for burial and their place of burial is not disclosed. In 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee found that the secrecy surrounding the death penalty in Belarus amounts to inhuman treatment of the families, and is a violation of Article 7 (the prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a state party.
 

New campaign video

Amnesty has launched a new online petition - backed by a powerful short film - aimed at stamping out the use of the death penalty in Belarus. 
 
Aisha Jung said:
 
“Our campaign is calling on Belarusian authorities to join the rest of Europe and a majority of countries around the world by introducing an immediate moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”
 

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