Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Investigation

Belarus executions compound EU outrage

Belarus has executed two men despite an international appeal for clemency, just as EU countries start talks on whether to impose extra sanctions.

On Saturday (17 March) Liubou Kavaliova received a 40-word-long note on Supreme Court stationary saying that her son, Uladzislau Kavalyou, has been killed.

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When well-wishers came by with flowers, they were met by Omon riot police, sent to make sure the evening did not turn into a protest rally. They caused even more upset by peeking in through her windows to see what she was doing in the house.

Her son and another young man, Dzmitry Kanavalau (also executed), were convicted of planting a bomb on the Minsk metro in April 2011. Their imputed motive was to "destabilise society" and their show trial was the fastest ever prosecution in a capital case in the country's history.

The whole story is now widely seen as a macabre PR exercise to showcase President Alexander Lukashanko's authority, which began to wane last year when shops ran out of basic commodities due to an economic slump.

"The accusations are based on the statements made by my son and Dzmitry, which were given under torture after their detention," Kavalyova said when she addressed the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, in January.

"Even the victims of the attack believe that these two boys are innocent and should not be murdered. But if they want more blood, I want them to send me to death instead of my innocent son. I have lived enough."

The metro bomb killed 15 people and wounded around 200 on 11 April last year. Within hours, Lukashenko - together with his seven-year-old son - appeared to make a personal tour of the grizzly scene.

The two men were detained the next day and later interrogated for seven hours with no lawyers present.

Both confessed. But Kavalyou subsequently retracted his confession, saying that he and Dzmitry had been threatened and physically tortured. Medical experts confirmed they had serious injuries, according to Change.org, a social platform which campaigned for their release.

Meanwhile, all the evidence was destroyed after the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus delivered its verdict on 30 November.

Bereaved family members will not be able to view the bodies. In Belarus, executions are typically carried out with a gunshot to the back of the head and the bodies are disposed of in secret locations.

Belarus is the only country in Europe which still carries out the death penalty and its latest killings have caused outrage in Brussels just as EU countries start talks on whether to impose extra sanctions.

"This death sentence, carried out despite the protests and appeals of their families and the international community, is a heinous act that should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It only shows how little Belarusian authorities care about European values and the inhuman face of president Lukashenko's regime," said Polish MEP Jacek Protasiewicz, chairman of the parliament's delegation for relations with Belarus.

Belarus - Europe's last dictatorship

Caught between the competing geopolitical interests of its neighbours, Belarus President Alexander Lukashanko has managed to position himself as a strategic buffer between Europe and Russia. EUobserver's Nikolaj Nielsen examines life - political, economic and cultural - under this autocrat.

About Nikolaj Nielsen

Nikolaj Nielsen is a Danish-American journalist working for EUobserver in Brussels. He won a King Baudouin Foundation grant for investigative journalism in 2010.

Who is Lukashenko anyway?

Eighteen years and still in power, Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko retains a mesmerising hold on a country which glorifies Soviet-era rule.

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