Amnesty International and Belarusian Helsinki Committee Condemn Executions of Convicts in Belarus
On 5 February 5 the Supreme Court of Belarus announced that Siarhei Marozau, the leader of a Homel-based criminal gang, and his close associates, Valery Harbaty and Ihar Danchanka, had been executed by shooting. The three were sentenced to death by shooting in a months-long trial that came to an end on 1 December 2006. The so-called Marozau Gang, which was said to have terrorized the Homel region between 1990 and 2004, was accused of 16 murders.
Amnesty International and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee oppose the death penalty in all ‘cases, without exception’, the human rights watchdogs say in their joint statement. ‘The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights – the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice.’
Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crimes more effectively than other punishments, the statement says.
Amnesty International and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee have urged the Belarusian authorities to immediately inform the families of the convicts about the dates and places of execution and burial, and to allow them to collect the prisoners' remains and any personal effects.
In October 2007, the Supreme Court of Belarus handed down sentences to five members of the Marozau Gang, including Messrs. Marozau and Danchanka, on new charges, again sentencing the two to death by shooting. The Court then sentenced to prison two other members who fled to Russia after the opening of the case and were arrested later.
Five police officers, including the chief of the regional criminal investigation department, were convicted by the Supreme Court in the case earlier. A total of 46 people then stood trial.
The police are currently searching for a former prosecutor of the Homel region in connection with the gang’s crimes.
Meanwhile, the Chyhunachny District Court in Homyel is to hear charges against six more alleged members of the Marozau Gang. More than 130 people are witnesses in the case.
Belarus is the only country in Europe and the post-Soviet region that still executes prisoners. The Belarusian authorities have preserved the death penalty for ‘premeditated, aggravated murder’ and 12 other peacetime offenses.
There are no data available about the number of executions in 2007. In November, the Supreme Court reported the execution of Aliaksandr Siarheichyk, a police officer convicted of six murders.
Henadz Navitski, chairman of the upper parliamentary house, said in March 2007 that the number of death sentences passed in Belarus decreased from 47 in 1998 to 13 in 1999, four in 2003, two in 2005 and two in 2006.
Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau said in late 2004 that five people had been sentenced to death and executed in Belarus that year. ‘In the last five years, no more than seven people have been sentenced to death annually, which is much less than one percent of all people convicted of grave crimes’, the minister said. ‘One-third of the 104 people currently serving life sentences say they would prefer the death penalty’, he added.
The death penalty was abolished thrice in the country since 1912 but was always been restored again. More than 80 percent of those who took part in a 1996 national referendum reportedly voted against abolishing the death penalty. In 2006, the government enacted an amendment to the Criminal Code, which indicated the temporary nature of the use of the death penalty in Belarus.
Executions in Belarus are carried out by a gunshot to the back of the head. Neither the condemned nor relatives are told of the scheduled date of the execution, and the relatives are not informed of where the body is buried.