The Leader of Europe's 'Last Dictatorship' Is Facing an Unprecedented Challenge. Here's What It Could Mean for Belarus

Europe’s longest serving leader Alexander Lukashenko has long worked hard to seem invincible. He has dominated past elections that the U.S. has deemed neither free nor fair and brokered no dissent and suppressed protests. Now, he is facing an unprecedented challenge as he runs for a sixth term as president of Belarus in elections on August 9. A former teacher and political novice, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as his main rival, pledging to topple Lukashenko’s regime and restore democracy.
Tens of thousands have rallied across Belarus in some of the country’s biggest opposition protests in a decade, amid mounting frustration over the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with grievances about the economy. Referring to Lukashenko, protestors chanted ‘stop the cockroach’ and held placards reading ‘change!’.
“For the first time in his 26-year rule, Lukashenko knows the majority don’t support him,” says Aleksandr Feduta, a former aide to the incumbent, who was i…

Hardly believable: Death sentence mitigated in Belarus

Viktar Skrundzik in court
On June 30, the Supreme Court of Belarus has upheld the appeal of Viktar Skrundzik, a resident of Slutsk district. The criminal case will be sent to Minsk Regional Court and reviewed, human rights centre Viasna reports.

In 2019, Viktar Skrundzik, together with Valyantsin Bushnin and Vitaly Metezh, burned several pensioners alive and stole their money. 

According to the verdict, the men committed the crime in a state of intoxication. 

In February 2020, the court passed a death sentence on Skrundzik, but today it has been reversed. 

The reasons for the revision have not been reported.

In his appeal, Viktar Skrundzik pointed out the incorrect choice of the measure of restraint as well as violations of Belarusian and international procedural norms that occurred during the investigation. 

He also asked to re-define the charge and mitigate the sentence.

According to his defence lawyer, Skrundzik is quite young and heavy charges had not been previously brought against him.

Belarus remains the only country in Europe that still applies capital punishment. 

The West has repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to join a global moratorium as a first step towards the abolition of death penalty.

The exact number of executions in Belarus is unknown, but local human rights defenders and journalists have worked tirelessly to uncover some information about death sentences and executions. 

According to the Ministry of Justice of Belarus, 245 people were sentenced to death from 1994 to 2014. 

Human rights NGOs believe that around 400 people have been executed since the country gained its independence in 1991. 

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka granted a pardon to only one convict.

Source: belsat.eu, Staff, June 30, 2020

In Rare Move, Belarusian Court Cancels Death Sentence In High-Profile Case

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
MINSK -- Belarus's Supreme Court has upheld the appeal of a death-row inmate and annulled his sentence in a murder case, a very rare move in the tightly controlled state led by autocratic President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The court also annulled two other sentences in the case on June 30, and sent it back for further investigation and a retrial. Belarus is the only country in Europe that enforces the death penalty.

A court in the central city of Slutsk in early March sentenced 29-year-old Viktar Skrundzik to death, 25-year-old Vital Myatsezh to 22 years in prison, and 33-year-old Valyantsin Bushnin to 18 years in prison, after finding them guilty of murdering two elderly persons, along with further crimes of attempted murder, arson, and robbery.

All three pleaded partially guilty and appealed their sentences. Skrundzik insisted at the trial that his initial confession in the crimes had been coerced by investigators.

Only Skrundzik was present at the appeal hearing on June 30.

He was brought to the courtroom handcuffed and in a special robe for death row convicts that has the letters VMN emblazoned on it. The acronym stands for capital punishment.

Skrundzik reiterated his stance, saying that he had confessed to the murders of the two elderly persons -- Mikhail Shuhaley and Uladzimer Harkavets -- under pressure, and stated that in fact he had not killed them.

According to Skrundzik, it was Bushnin who killed the two men. Skrundzik added that he feared Bushnin because, according to him, the man had connections in criminal circles.

Belarusian human rights activist Andrey Paluda called the court's decision "a historic moment."

"A death sentence was canceled, which is very rare.... The whole case will be reinvestigated and that is a big thing, which we hail," Paluda told RFE/RL.

For years, the European Union has urged Belarus to join other countries in declaring a moratorium on capital punishment.

According to Paluda, aside from Skrundzik, there are four other persons on death row in Belarus.

Rights organizations have said that more than 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since it gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Sourcerferl.org, Staff, July 1, 2020

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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