Annual Report: Belarus 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Belarus 2011

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Head of state: Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Head of government: Syarhey Sidorski
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 9.6 million
Life expectancy: 69.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 14/9 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 99.7

Three death sentences were handed down and two people were executed. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly were severely restricted and peaceful demonstrators were detained and fined. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were not investigated promptly and impartially. Prisoners of conscience were denied access to medical and legal assistance.

Background

In December, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was re-elected for the fourth time by 79.7 per cent of the votes in elections that international observers judged fell short of OSCE standards. Riot police violently dispersed a mainly peaceful demonstration held by opposition supporters at close of voting on 19 December. The events were followed by a clampdown on opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists who were subjected to arbitrary detention, searches, threats and other forms of harassment by the authorities.

Death penalty

State representatives expressed their willingness to engage with the international community regarding the death penalty. In February, a Parliamentary Working Group on the Death Penalty was established. In September, the government acknowledged the need to abolish the death penalty to the UN Human Rights Council; it stated its intention to mould public opinion in favour of abolition and to continue its co-operation with the international community. Despite this, Belarus continued to hand down death sentences and to carry out executions.

  • Vasily Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk, who had been sentenced to death in June and July 2009 respectively, were executed in March. As in all death penalty cases in Belarus, neither the prisoners nor their relatives were informed of the date in advance. Andrei Zhuk's mother only learnt of her son's execution afterwards when she tried to deliver a food parcel on 19 March. The execution was carried out despite the fact that both men had applied to the UN Human Rights Committee, and on 12 October 2009 the Committee had made a request to the government not to execute the two men until it had considered their cases.
  • Oleg Grishkovtsov and Andrei Burdyko were sentenced to death on 14 May by Hrodna Regional Court for premeditated murder, armed assault, arson, kidnapping of a minor, theft and robbery. Their appeals were turned down by the Supreme Court on 17 September 2010.
  • On 14 September, Ihar Myalik was sentenced to death by Mahilyou Regional Court for a series of armed assaults and murders committed in 2009 on the Mahilyou-Homel highway. A second man was sentenced to life imprisonment for the same crime, and a third died in custody before the end of the trial.

Freedom of expression

In May, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media expressed concern in a letter to the Belarusian authorities about pressure placed on independent media in the country and stated that "Intimidation of journalists exerts a 'chilling' effect on already weakened investigative journalism in Belarus."