‘Shameful purge’: Amnesty International condemns three executions in Belarus

As many as three of the four men on death row in Minsk have been executed in a shameful purge since 5 November, Amnesty International said on November 30 after confirming with Belarusian human rights defenders.

The organization is launching a new online petition and video aimed at stamping out the use of the death penalty in Belarus – the last country in Europe and the former Soviet Union to still carry out executions.

Video by Amnesty International

“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,” said Aisha Jung, Campaigner on Belarus at Amnesty International, who recently returned from Minsk.

According to the Belarusian NGO Viasna, since 5 November, Syarhei Khmyaleuski, Ivan Kulesh and possibly Henadz Yakavitski have all been executed with a gunshot to the back of the head.

On 29 November, relatives of 31-year-old Khmyaleuski arrived at the SIZO No.1 prison in Minsk to visit him on death row, only to be informed he had been executed on an unknown date in recent weeks. 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. Syarhei 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. Henadz 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 since November 2014 – Siarhei Ivanou on 18 April 2016.

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 keeping with Belarusian law, the bodies of the executed are not returned to relatives for burial and their place of burial is not disclosed.  In many cases, families first learn of their relative’s death when they receive a parcel with the convict’s prison boots and death row uniform. They are required to collect death certificates from the Belarusian authorities.

The exact number of executions in Belarus is unknown, but local human rights defenders and journalists have worked tirelessly to uncover some information about death sentences and executions.According to the Ministry of Justice of Belarus, 245 people were sentenced to death from 1994 to 2014. Human rights NGOs believe that around 400 people have been executed since the country gained its independence in 1991.

Belsat.eu, via Amnesty International