Belarus expands death penalty law, ups threat to opposition

May 18, 2022 GMT

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus on Wednesday expanded the death penalty law to include “attempted terrorism,” in a move that could radically ramp up the government’s pressure on the country’s beleaguered opposition.

Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko signed a law allowing the death penalty for an attempt to commit a terrorist attack. Previously, it could not be handed down for “an unfinished crime.” Belarus’ leading human rights groups and opposition politicians have spoken out against the law.

Belarus is the only country in Europe where the death penalty is still in place.

The new law amends Belarus’ Criminal Code and applies in cases of plotted acts of international terrorism and murders of government officials or public figures. It has been approved by the country’s parliament.

Authorities in Belarus started actively bringing terrorism charges against opposition figures after Lukashenko won his sixth term in office in a disputed 2020 presidential election, triggering a wave of mass street protests that drew up to 200,000 people.

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Lukashenko’s government responded with a violent crackdown, detaining more than 35,000 people and brutally bearing thousands. Key opposition figures have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.

In March 2021, the prosecutor general’s office launched a criminal case on the charges of preparing a terrorist act against opposition leaders Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Pavel Latushka and others.

The latest arrests on terrorist charges involved so-called “railway partisans” suspected of sabotaging the Belarusian railways to hinder supplies of Russian weapons to the frontlines in Ukraine.

“Introducing death penalty for ‘attempted terrorism’ is a direct threat to activists opposing the dictator and the war (in Ukraine),” Tsikhanouskaya told the AP. “I call on the international community to respond and consider any instruments for preventing political murders in Belarus.”

Belarus’ Helsinki Committee, the Viasna human rights center and the Human Rights Against Death Penalty group have issued a joint statement noting that the new amendments “create prerequisites for serious abuses and arbitrary application of the death penalty.”