Another death sentence: Think about it!

2013 2013-05-21T11:19:00+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich against the death penalty in Belarus

Human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich against the death penalty in Belarus

A report of the Prosecutor’s Office of Mahiliou region said on April 30 that another death sentence had been pronounced in Belarus. It was the first verdict since 2011. Some Western politicians were too quick to call the lack of new death sentences in 2012 as a “positive trend.”

This is especially significant at the background of another wave of active relations of the official Minsk with the Council of Europe. As it is known, the main condition for the restoration of the special guest status of Belarus is a moratorium on executions. However, while the penal code has this kind of punishment, as an exceptional measure, the judges will sentence people to death. Accordingly, while there is no moratorium on the execution of sentences, the executioners will shoot people in the back of their heads in the basement of the Interior Ministry’s detention center of Minsk. This is our reality. In the country itself, at least in public, there are no talks of a desire to restore the special guest status, not to mention the membership in the Council of Europe. The position of the head of state on the matter, too, so far looks pretty consistent – the people are against the abolition of the death penalty, calling for the preservation of the measure in a referendum in 1996. As for the people, it seems that after the execution of Kanavalau and Kavaliou as a result of a controversial trial that shook the entire country public opinion drifted back to the state it was in before the terrorist attack in the Minsk metro. After the death sentence in the case a large number of citizens opposed the death penalty, which, in my opinion, was more the result of a general distrust of the results of the investigation, the distrust of the police and the courts, in principle, as well as the “personification” of the two youths sentenced to death through a large public attention to the case itself.

The new death sentence did not raise much attention in the country, it was remembered but in a few independent media and human rights online resources. This is partly due to the lack of information about the case, the identity of the convicted person. In contrast to the publicity of the case of Kanavalau and Kavaliou, this case has a completely non-public nature. The government did not even disclose the name of the convict. It should be noted that the lack of transparency in matters relating to the imposition and execution of death sentences, in particular, is a typical situation in Belarus. Statistics of sentences cannot be freely obtained, not to mention other aspects of the issue.

What is known about the new death sentence? Human rights defenders already know the name – Yazepchuk. We also know that he was born in 1969, a native of Zhytomyr Oblast in Ukraine, of no permanent residence; he had been repeatedly tried, including for murder. Yazepchuk and one of his cellmates (sentenced to 16 years in prison) were convicted for the murder of their cellmate. The three men allegedly decided to play dominoes – for life. The one who lost was later strangled knowing in advance of the day of his murder. An absurd and pointless crime, without any apparent motive, just for the game sake. The peculiarity of this murder was that it was committed in the bowels of the prison system. Moreover, it happened in a special regime prison, so-called “covered prison,” which suggests a particularly enhanced surveillance of the convicts. Personally, I have a question to the administration of the facility, the officers, psychologists and other officials in charge. How did they ensure the protection of life and health of prisoners held in complete isolation from the outside world? Although, of course, this does not remove the responsibility from the criminals themselves.

But who can answer my question, what is now the meaning of the murder of Yazepchuk? What “educational effect” is it supposed to have in a society where the majority of people do not even know about the verdict? How will it affect the rate of murders to reduce the level of violent crimes in the country? It turns out that the state now has played dominoes with Yazepchuk himself, only he has no chance of winning the game. It is just the same senseless, cold-blooded murder that has nothing to do with justice and fairness. The only thing that distinguishes it from the murder committed by Yazepchuk is that now it will be done on behalf of the Republic of Belarus. I am deeply convinced that the state should not kill its citizens, because otherwise it appears on the same level with those it kills, i.e. the criminals. It is possible to isolate a socially dangerous individual in a different way, without depriving him of life.

The sentence handed down by Mahiliou Regional Court has not yet entered into force. Theoretically, the death convict has the opportunity to appeal the sentence to the Criminal Board of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus. Subsequently, in the case the appeal is rejected, the sentence will immediately come into force. Then, there is the only possibility of a supervisory appeal to the Chairman of the Supreme Court or the Prosecutor General, or asking for clemency in the name of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. However, in practice, the chances of saving the life of Yazepchuk are slim. Even the UN special instruments do not stop this conveyor belt of death.

Speaking for the death penalty, remember that in a country where there is no public oversight of the law enforcement system, where there is no institution of an independent legal profession and the judiciary is extremely dependent on the executive branch, you can be the next who will be sentenced to death. Think about it!


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Valiantsin Stefanovich