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World Day Against Death Penalty: powerful video shows horror for families

To coincide with World Day Against the Death Penalty today, Amnesty has released a powerful six-minute video showing the impact of the death penalty on families in Belarus, the only country in Europe that still carries out executions. 

The video, based on the case of Gennadii Yakovitskii who was executed in Belarus in 2016, reveals the torment of his family as they struggled to understand what was happening. 

Yakovitskii’s daughter Sasha explains that she hadn’t even known that Belarus had capital punishment in its justice system until her father - accused of murder - was actually in court. 

Ten months later, Yakovitskii was executed - like all death prisoners in Belarus, shot in the back of the head after being forced to kneel down by prison guards - without either his family or his legal representatives being informed in advance. His family merely received a letter in the post confirming his death. They were also told they would not be able to collect his body and could not know how his body had been disposed of as this was “classified information”. 

At least two people have been executed in Belarus so far this year, while four others remain on death row.

New campaign

Belarus is one of the targets of a new Amnesty campaign to pressure five countries - Belarus, Ghana, Iran, Japan and Malaysia - to end inhumane detention conditions for death row prisoners and abolish the death penalty. 

In Iran, Mohammad Reza Haddadi, who has been on death row since he was 15, has been forced to endure the mental torture of having his execution scheduled and postponed at least six times over the past 14 years. In Japan, Matsumoto Kenji has developed a delusional disorder which is highly likely to be the result of being held in prolonged detention in solitary confinement awaiting execution. In Malaysia, Hoo Yew Wah lodged a petition for clemency in 2014 but is yet to receive any news. While in Ghana, death row prisoners frequently report being denied access to medication for illnesses and long-term health conditions. 

Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Deputy Director, said:  

“No matter what crime they may have committed, no one should be forced to endure such inhumane conditions of detention. 

“Yet in many cases, prisoners under sentence of death are kept in strict isolation, lack access to necessary medications, and live with constant anxiety from the threat of execution. 

“The fact that some governments notify prisoners and their relatives a few days - or in some cases a few moments - before their execution is cruel.

“All governments retaining the death penalty must immediately abolish it and put an end to the appalling conditions of detention that too many death row prisoners are forced to endure.” 

Fall in executions last year

In 2017 - the last year for which global figures are available - Amnesty recorded 993 executions in 23 countries, down by 4% from 2016 and 39% from 2015. Most executions took place in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. However, these figures do not include the thousands of executions carried out in China, where data on the use of the death penalty is a state secret.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is the ultimate cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment.

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