Human rights defender Andrei Paluda: Death convict Eduard Lykau executed
- The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Eduard Lykau back in April 2014. However, further information about him has been silenced by the courts and law enforcement agencies. What do you know about this case?
- I would like to stress that the authorities from the very beginning did their best to prevent the public from learning anything about Lykau’s case. In November 2013, we learned from our sources that the Minsk Regional Court sentenced a man who committed the murder of five people. Before the news was published on the human rights website spring96.org, neither the court nor the Prosecutor's Office or the Investigative Committee had reported nothing, as if the man had stolen a bag of potatoes, rather than committed such a terrible crime.
We never managed to get in touch with Lykau’s relatives. The case file described him as a man with no fixed abode. As far as we know, at the time of the court hearing he had a mother, but he did not maintain contacts with her. Moreover, he did not even want her to know about the verdict. In such a situation, it is quite difficult to learn anything about the convict, including the execution.
However, through our sources we learned that he shared a cell with Pavel Sialiun when held in the Minsk jail. Also, we were informed that Eduard Lykau was shot. We do not know when it happened. However, it can be assumed that his sentence was executed along with other death verdicts. Most likely, together with Hrunou (Aliaksandr Hrunou’s relatives received notice of the execution in November 2014 – naviny.by).
- Belarus is marked by quite a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the authorities claim that the death penalty deters crime in the community. On the other hand, information on the cases of death convicts is often silenced.
- Speaking about the argument ‘the death penalty deters crime’. Any professional lawyer knows that this is misleading. Even those who publicly defend the opposite. This issue has been silenced since the Soviet era, when there was a huge amount of unjust verdicts. Also, I think it’s the principle ‘only not to make it worse’. We have officials who are afraid to say a word, so that they don’t have to be responsible for it. The case of Eduard Lykau revealed a very important issue. Innocent people were found guilty of the first two murders that he committed. One of them, Mikhail Hladki, was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Lykau’s fingerprints were found at the crime scene, but investigators did not even look for him to summon for questioning. As a result, he spent nine more years out of prison, killing three more people, until he was finally arrested in 2011. None of the investigators, prosecutors or judges were prosecuted for this terrible mistake. Thank God, Hladki survived. They initially tried to pin two murders on him – his mother’s and brother’s. In such a situation, he could have been sentenced to death.
- However, Mikhail Hladki has been unable to obtain compensation for the fact that he was illegally sentenced to eight years. Why do you think the government is so cynical in this situation?
- Mikhail really went through all the courts hoping that he could receive compensation. But it was not a success at all the levels. Pleaded guilty – not entitled to compensation, this is the position of the court described in a few words. They ruined his life, but no one cares. During his time in prison, his 35-year-old wife suffered a heart attack and a stroke. She died three months after her husband was released. In fact, Hladki is lonely. He was a good electrician, but with his criminal record nobody really want to hire him, so he mostly did work on the side. What struck me most, he said if he had received compensation, he would have buy a monument to his murdered mother and brother...
When talking about the government's position on this issue, I think that the courts do not want to set a precedent. Hladki is the only case we know, but how many more of such cases there can be! However, we continue working on the case. Mikhail has complained to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
- MP Mikalai Samaseika once said that if the West less reproached Belarus for the death penalty, this issue would have long been resolved. Maybe it really worth talking less, so as not to irritate the authorities?
- Pardon me, but this position reminds me of the saying ‘I’ll have my ears frostbitten to spite my mother’. Belarus should not abolish the death penalty for Europe but for the sake of its own citizens. With regard to the discussion of this topic, in my opinion, it is essential to conduct a dialogue in the society. We see that information on death sentences triggers strong reactions. Such publications gather a record number of views and comments. Often people express very tough opinions, but at this stage, in my opinion, the main thing is not to silence the issue.
Liubou Kavaliova, the mother of Uladzislau Kavaliou who was convicted in the Minsk metro explosion case, told me that she was advised not to speak on her son’s case. They said that if she knelt in front of the President, instead of contacting human rights defenders, Uladzislau would have never been shot. The parents of the second defendant in the case, Dzmitry Kanavalau, were isolated from society. They are still silent. The result was the same: both were executed. I know that Liubou Kavaliova does not regret fighting for her son until the last moment. According to her, she just could not do otherwise.
- The question of the abolition or a moratorium on the death penalty, in fact, is in the hands of one person – Aliaksandr Lukashenka. His comments on the topic, in my opinion, suggest that he personally is a supporter of the death penalty. And this position is unlikely to be shaken by someone, don’t you think so?
- I agree about his personal position. We all remember what he said at a meeting with the Prosecutor General regarding Aliaksandr Hrunou. The case was sent back for retrial to the Homieĺ Regional Court, the sentence had not yet been announced, but the President, meanwhile, had already said that the accused had no right to live on earth. However, I would not be so categorical about the fact that Lukashenka’s opinion can never change. We know examples where the most desperate supporters of the death penalty - those who were in charge of executions – eventually declared that the death penalty should be abolished.
- Belarus is once again trying to re-establish relations with Europe. This is taking place against the backdrop of an economic crisis. In your opinion, can the question of the death penalty be resolved under the circumstances?
- It is difficult to give a definite answer. However, I want to emphasize that the question of the abolition of the death penalty is a priority when discussing the human rights situation in the country. The fact that we are the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union where people are still executed – is a fact very well known and negative for the reputation of Belarus. A few months ago, the Belarusian authorities argued that we had no political prisoners. But shortly before the presidential election, these prisoners were released. I think everyone understands that it was not a coincidence.
- I’ll be direct: in your opinion, can Lukashenka ‘sell’ the abolition of the death penalty?
- For the Belarusian authorities, the death penalty is a question of political bargaining, so I think that Lukashenka can ‘sell’ a solution to this issue. We all can see the deteriorating economic situation in the country. Russia is unlikely to be a helping hand in the near future. So they will seek the help of the West. And there they have the question of human rights as a priority.
- This argument is rightly rejected by the Belarusian officials: the death penalty is actively used in the United States, the cradle of democracy.
- I share the indignation of the Belarusian authorities. And in all international conferences I attend I keep criticizing the US position. However, we must not forget that 19 states have abolished the death penalty. In addition, US citizens sentenced to death may await execution for up to 30 years. There were cases when people were released because modern technology helped prove that they had been wrongly convicted of a crime. In Belarus, it takes a very short period to execute the verdict. Uladzislau Kavaliou, for instance, was shot 3.5 months after the trial.
- There are two prisoners on death row at the moment: Siarhei Ivanou, who committed the brutal murder of a girl in Rečyca, and Ivan Kulesh convicted of murdering three people and attempted murder in Lida district.
- I would like to add that jail No. 1 in Minsk also holds Pyotr Ivanik, a Russian citizen who was sentenced to death by a court in the United Arab Emirates for having ordered the murder of his business partner. According to our information, Ivanik will soon be extradited to the United Arab Emirates, where he is likely to be executed. The Belarusian authorities also prefer to remain silent about the case.
(after the interview, it became known that Belarus imposed another death sentence in the case of a resident of Vilejka)
- Returning to Kulesh’s case. He refused to speak in court. But at the stage of the investigation he fully admitted his guilt on all counts and did not ask the court to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment. If he did not cling to life and is ready to be shot, why should society and human rights activists fight for him?
- We seek the abolition of the death penalty not for a specific person, but for the whole society. Mikhail Hladki also once confessed that he had killed his brother, though in fact it was done by Lykau. And if the version of the investigation had gone in a different way, perhaps he would also confess to murdering his mother. And this is a potential death sentence. Meanwhile, in the history of Belarus, unfortunately, there have been cases when innocent people were shot. The most striking example is the case of the Viciebsk maniac Mikhasevich.
- Since 2015, suspects or defendants may enter into a pre-trial agreement on cooperation, which ensures the reduction in the maximum possible sentence. Could this affect the reduction in the number of death sentences, in your opinion?
- Too little time has passed to assess this provision. We have quite a few progressive laws, and above all – the Constitution. However, they are often violated. Therefore, the time will show how the institute of pre-trial agreement will work. I want to note that giving oneself is a mitigating factor in sentencing. But in Kulesh’s case, for example, this had no impact on the verdict. Although the lawyer stressed that if his client had not told about the murder of two saleswomen in Lida, perhaps those responsible in this case would still be searched to this day. At the time of Kulesh’s arrest, more than a year had passed since the commission of the crime.
- How do you perceive criticism on the Internet? After all, you are often referred to as the ‘defender of murderers’?
- I defend human rights. And I try to approach every case professionally. You have to understand that people who have been sentenced to death are not aliens from another planet, but the citizens of our country who live next to us. And we always have to analyze why a man chose to commit a brutal crime. If you look at the portrait of a death convict, most often this is a person who has previously been convicted. This raises the question in our prison system. What do the people face in prisons, if they are released with even more violent behavior?
In addition, the problem of alcoholism is very acute. Most murders are committed in Belarus while intoxicated. Sending Kulesh to death, the government fights crime in the society, on the one hand. But on the other hand, it pours alcohol, by allowing the sale of alcohol at night before the elections.