Belarus: First death sentence in 2017
Paris-Minsk. FIDH and its member organisation in Belarus Human Rights Centre "Viasna" denounce the first death sentence in 2017 and regret the Belarusian authorities continue to ignore calls to render Europe a death penalty-free zone.
On 17 March 2017, 32-year-old Aliaksei Mikhalenya was sentenced to death by the Gomel Regional Court of Belarus for two murders committed with particular cruelty. Although Aliaksei Mikhalenya has the right to appeal the sentence in Supreme Court in Belarus, the appeal court rarely commutes death sentences and the chances to get the Presidential pardon are illusionary, as revealed in the joint FIDH-HRC report "Death penalty in Belarus: Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds". As the report demonstrates, throughout investigation and trial, self-incrimination is used by the prosecution as the main evidence of guilt, whilst the right to an effective legal defence is systematically violated. In general, the application of death penalty in Belarus is accompagnied by severe human rights violations at each stage of the judicial proceedings and during detention.
"The UN has confirmed the violation of the right to life in six decisions concerning the use of death penalty in Belarus. The application of capital punishment is an indicator of authorities disrespect of international human rights bodies and human rights in general," Florence Bellivier, former President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said.
Furthermore, considerable secrecy surrounds the application of death penalty in Belarus. Information concerning the death penalty is withheld from the general public, whilst information on detention conditions for death convicts and execution procedures is not publicly available. The exact number of persons convicted to death and executed in Belarus is unknown. The families of death convicts are neither informed in advance of the date of the execution, nor immediately thereafter, the body is never handed over to relatives and the location of the burial site is kept secret.
"The name of Aliaksei Mikhalenya was held secret until yesterday when human rights defenders communicated his identity. Withholding the identity precludes us from providing legal aid to the person concerned and to his family," Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign "Human rights defenders against the death penalty in Belarus".
Belarus is the only country in Europe that applies death penalty. For the duration of negotiations around EU restrictive measures against Belarusian officials and businesses, the executions had been on hold. However, upon the lifting of sanctions in February 2016, executions resumed and by December 2016 reached their highest number since 2008: four convicts executed in secrecy in 2016.
Being a founding member of the World Coalition against the Death penalty, FIDH and its member organisation HRC "Viasna" urge the EU and other actors to use all leverages at their disposal to put an end to the capital punishment in Belarus.