Belarus and the death penalty

The death penalty, punishment by execution, is used by only 58 countries worldwide. The rest deem it unfit for purpose while Amnesty International state it “breaches two essential human rights: the right to life and right to live free from torture”. The most high-profile exponent is the United States, where it is legal in 31 of the 50 states. Many countries in Asia still use it, mostly to punish drug traffickers, but only one in Europe, Belarus.

A former Soviet state, Belarus is said to have carried out over 300 executions since its independence from the USSR in 1991, however the exact number is unknown. Unlike in the US, the death penalty is carried out by gun shot and shrouded in secrecy. According to Amnesty International, two executions were carried out in 2017 while there are six people still waiting for their execution. The number of executions fell between 2016 to 2017 from four to two but four new inmates were put on death row in 2017

According to its constitution, the penalty is handed down “in accordance with the law as an exceptional penalty for especially grave crimes and only in accordance with the verdict of a court of law”. However, this does not apply to women, who are exempt from capital punishment in Belarus.

While the government withhold some information about the death penalty in Belarus, evidence gathered from former guards and journalists gives the outside world an insight into the executions and how they are carried out in a Belarussian prison.

On the day of execution, inmates are told that all appeals against their sentence have failed. They are then blindfolded and led to a specially arranged room which has restricted access decided by the prosecutor. The inmate is then forced to kneel before being shot and killed. This process takes two minutes in total while members of the public aren’t allowed to be present.

A doctor is then brought in to confirm the execution and a death certificate is produced. It can be weeks or months before the family is notified. Sometimes they are notified their loved one has been killed when a box of the inmate’s belongings is sent to them.

The body is never returned to the family and is buried in a secret location by the state, another violation of human rights according to the UN.