Belarusian law students enrolled at the European University for the Humanities report to JURIST on current conditions in Belarus under the constitutionally contested presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. Here, one of them discusses new criminal code provisions that explicitly allow the execution of Belarusian officials and soldiers for “state treason”. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding the name of the reporter who provided this report. The text has been edited only slightly to respect the author’s voice.
I already wrote that the Belarusian system has expanded the list of crimes for which a person can be sentenced to death. You can read that message here. These seem to be the last amendments to the law that can be expected. However, on 7 December, the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus approved amendments to the Criminal Code. One such change is the new standard under which the death penalty can be applied to an official or soldier for treason to the state.
According to the official statement of Parliament:
The purpose of preparing the bill is to take preventive measures for the commission of extremist (terrorist) crimes by amending the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Republic of Belarus.
In order to have a deterrent effect on subversive elements, as well as to show resolute struggle against state treason, the bill proposes amendments to the punishment of Part 2 of Article 356 of the Criminal Code, providing for the possibility of applying an exceptional penalty in the form of the death penalty for treason committed by an official holding a position general or a person subject to the status of a soldier.
In the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, state treason is the issuance of state secrets of the Republic of Belarus to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or its representatives, as well as information constituting the state secrets of other states transferred to the Republic of Belarus in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus, espionage or defection in favor of the enemy during war or armed conflict, or rendering any other assistance to a foreign country, international or foreign organization or its representatives in carrying out activities aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus, intentionally committed by a citizen of the Republic of Belarus (state treason).
“State treason” is a very broad concept, under which absolutely any activity of opponents can be attributed. Hence, the Lukashenko regime will take drastic measures to protect itself.
And don’t forget the Ukrainian context here. If Belarus becomes directly involved in Russia’s war against Ukraine, any Belarusian military who defects to the Ukrainian side and refuses to fight will be sentenced to death upon his return to Belarus.
In addition to this information, I would like to mention some statistics about the death penalty in Belarus:
Belarus is the only country in Europe where the death penalty is applied. The use of the death penalty is regularly criticized by the European Union and other international organisations.
Alexander Lukashenko publicly supports the death penalty as a “deterrent”. Since there is no moratorium on the death penalty, Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore the country’s citizens cannot lodge a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.
Over the past decade, between 2 and 9 people have been sentenced to death each year. However, the death penalty may not be imposed on: persons who have committed crimes under the age of eighteen; slim; Anyone who has reached sixty-five years on the day the judgment is issued.
A convicted person can ask for pardon, that is, the death penalty can be commuted to life imprisonment, but only one person is known to have been pardoned during all the years of Lukashenka’s regime.
The death penalty in Belarus is traditionally shrouded in mystery. The body of the executed person is not handed over to his family for burial, and the place of his burial has not been reported. This practice was recognized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee as inhumane with regard to relatives of those executed in 2003. The committee called on the state to eliminate the abuses. However, Belarus ignored its commitments.
According to information provided by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus, 326 people were sentenced to death in Belarus from 1990 to 2011.