“Belarus is the only state in Europe that still executes people”. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s speech at the 8th World Congress against the Death Penalty

“Dear friends,

Today I speak on behalf of millions of Belarusians who in 2020 chose freedom, democracy, and human rights over oppression and tyranny.

The dictator Lukashenka lost the election, and waged a war against his own people.

Hundreds of thousands were forced into exile, jailed, tortured. Many got charged with terrorism, and may even face the death penalty.

The regime in Belarus is using the death penalty as a tool of repression and a tool of intimidation against the people. 

If earlier the fear of the death penalty was abstract and distant, now many political activists live in fear of being shot dead.

Today Belarus is the only state in Europe that still executes people. 

Human rights defenders report that since Belarus gained its independence in 1991, over 300 people have been sentenced to death.

Until this year, the death penalty was prescribed for over 13 crimes.

This year, the regime has put three more articles in the list of mortal crimes. Now a person can be sentenced to death for “attempts to carry out acts of terrorism”. It is basically a thought crime punishment. 

Executioners in Belarus do not look into the victim’s eyes. The person sentenced to death is blindfolded. Led to a special room. Shot in the back of the head. 

Before that very minute, no appeals would be considered. No reports of torture would reach the court. Days or years before the shot, a condemned person is held in total isolation. Treated by prison guards like already dead. No walks or letters are allowed. No visits from relatives. 

Conditions of detention on death row have repeatedly led to suicide attempts. Such attempts are halted, as the state reserves the right to kill.

The bodies of those executed are not released to their families. The time and place of execution, or even the place of burial, are kept secret. Relatives can not say goodbye to their loved one. Can not bury him in accordance with family traditions. Can not visit his tomb. 

According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the whole process is designed to intentionally leave families in a state of uncertainty and mental distress. This is torture for the innocent.

To understand the use of the death penalty in my country, you have to understand the climate of repression that Belarusians are living in. Today, more than 1,350 political prisoners are suffering in inhuman conditions, and the number keeps rising. 

Just recently, civic activist Mikalai Authovich was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The regime accused Mikalai in terrorism, alongside other defendants – a pensioner, a priest, a disabled man with one leg, and civic activists. Together they share a sentence of 200 years. It was regime’s revenge for their political stance.

Death penalty in Belarus is a part of the intimidation policy. The purpose of each sentence – is to spread fear. The regime believes it can only survive if Belarusians are too scared to resist. 

Legalized killings to suppress political dissent is one of many repressive traditions that remained since Soviet time. 

Over the 28 years of Lukashenka’s dictatorship, many who dared to speak out against him simply disappeared. Now, he tries to build a legal base for his crimes. 

Death penalty in Belarus is a real threat for those who resist Russian occupation and show solidarity with Ukraine. For our brave partisans who sabotage railways to stop Russian troops. For those who join resistance or even donate to the Ukrainian army.

We cannot discuss the death penalty as part of the legal system. Because the law in Belarus simply does not work. We have a repression machine, built to keep the dictator in power. The machine that would kill anyone in the way. 

The death penalty is not the only problem in Belarus. But it is a symptom of an inhumane regime that is ready to kill for its own interests. And the problem should be treated comprehensively. Only the dismantling of the regime, and democratic transition in Belarus will ensure the end of killings and repressions.

I call on you to speak out loudly about every case of repression in Belarus. Strong pressure through sanctions can put an end to torture and crimes against humanity. 

We must collect evidences of human rights crimes in order to bring perpetrators to justice, using international courts and universal jurisdiction.

We must stop the use of the death penalty as a disguise for political killings, not only in Belarus but worldwide.

Dictators without any legitimacy like to pretend that they are acting in a legal way, that they are fighting “terrorism”, you name it.

But we need to call it what it is – murder. 

And if we want to live in a world where human rights mean something, where human life means something – criminals like Lukashenka should take a seat before the tribunal. 

Thank you!”

15 November 2022 в 18:00