Belarusian law students enrolled at European Humanities University are filing reports with JURIST on current circumstances in Belarus under the constitutionally-disputed presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. Here, one of them discusses new Criminal Code provisions explicitly authorizing Belarusian officials and soldiers to be put to death for committing “treason to the state”. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding the name of the correspondent filing this report. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.
I have already written that the Belarusian regime has expanded the list of offenses for which a person can be sentenced to death. You can read that dispatch here. It seemed that these were the last amendments to the law that could be expected. But on December 7 the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus approved amendments to the Criminal Code. One of these changes is a new norm, according to which it is possible to apply the death penalty to an official or a soldier for treason to the state.
According to the official statement of the Parliament:
The purpose of preparing the draft bill is to take proactive measures for the commission of extremist (terrorist) crimes by adjusting the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes of the Republic of Belarus.
In order to have a deterrent effect on destructive elements, as well as to demonstrate a resolute fight against treason to the State, the draft bill proposes amendments to the sanction 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 public position or a person who is subject to the status of a serviceman.
In the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, treason to the state is the issuance to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or their representatives of state secrets of the Republic of Belarus, as well as information constituting state secrets of other states transferred to the Republic of Belarus in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus, or espionage, or defection to the enemy during war or armed conflict, or other assistance to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or their 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 (treason to the state).
“Treason to the state” is an extremely broad concept, under which absolutely any activity of opposition persons can fall. Thus, the Lukashenka regime is going to extreme measures to protect itself.
And don’t forget about the Ukrainian context here. If Belarus becomes directly involved in Russia’s war against Ukraine, any Belarusian military who defect to the Ukrainian side and refused to fight will be sentenced to death upon returning to Belarus.
In addition to this information, I would like to cite some statistics on 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 organizations.
Alexander Lukashenka openly supports capital punishment as a “deterrent factor”. Due to the absence of a moratorium on the death penalty, Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore citizens of the country cannot complain to the European Court of Human Rights.
During the last decade, anywhere from 2 to 9 people are sentenced to death every year. However the death penalty may not be imposed on: persons who have committed crimes under the age of eighteen; women; men who have reached sixty-five years by the day of the verdict.
A convicted person can ask for clemency, i.e., 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 a veil of mystery. The body of the executed person is not given to the family for burial, the place of his burial is not reported. This practice was recognized by the UN Human Rights Committee as inhumane in relation to the relatives of those executed back in 2003. The Committee demanded that the country eliminate violations. However, Belarus ignored its obligations.
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.