Belarusian authorities have adopted a new law which introduces the death penalty for “attempts to carry out acts of terrorism”. Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:
“Belarus is the only state in Europe and Central Asia which still uses the death penalty, the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. This law, which is against Belarus’ international obligations, expands the application of this cruel and inhumane punishment and for acts that do not qualify as intentional killing, is the latest display of Belarusian authorities’ profound disregard for human rights.
“It is particularly alarming given that the Belarusian authorities have a dangerously vague definition of ‘terrorism’, with terrorism-related charges used to prosecute political dissent. Authorities have systematically equated peaceful protest and free expression to violent crimes, and this law is a chilling signal that they are ramping up their repression and raising the stakes to deadly new heights.
“Amid a suffocatingly repressive political climate in Belarus, opponents of the government now face the prospect of being shot if they dare to speak out. We call on Belarus to abandon this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment once and for all, and to stop its shameful campaign of persecution of political opponents and human rights activists.”
On 18 May, Alyaksandr Lukashenka gave presidential approval to new legislation which introduces the death penalty for “attempts to carry out acts of terrorism.” The law will come into force 10 days after its publication.
In April the Belarusian parliament passed the bill widening the application of the death penalty, a move believed to be a response to recent incidents of sabotage on the country’s railway network.
Such incidents have reportedly been used as a covert tactic by opponents of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to prevent Russian forces stationed in Belarus from travelling across the border.
According to Human Rights Center Viasna, dozens of political activists have already been charged with “attempted terrorism.” Among them is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, and Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s main contender in the widely-disputed 2020 presidential elections.
Currently, the death penalty is usually applied in Belarus for aggravated murder but is also a possible punishment in legislation for acts of terrorism that cause loss of life.