Why are they hiding?
Data on the death penalty remained classified in Belarus, China, Mongolia and Viet Nam in 2011. There was little or no official information available for Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea and Singapore.
In some cases, state secrecy extended to the prisoners themselves – and their families. In Belarus and Viet Nam prisoners were informed just hours before their execution, with their families and lawyers told only after the event. And in Belarus and Viet Nam, the bodies of the executed were not returned to their families for burial.
Leaving prisoners and their families wondering whether each day will be their last makes an already painful situation even worse. It prevents prisoners from preparing psychologically and emotionally for their end. It prevents lawyers from mounting new challenges in courts. And it denies families the opportunity to say good-bye to their loved ones.
International standards require states that retain the death penalty to make information about its use publicly available. The Human Rights Committee has stated that the failure to notify the family and lawyers of the execution of prisoners on death row is incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In November 2011, the Committee against Torture raised its concerns about the secrecy surrounding executions in Belarus and the additional uncertainty and suffering this may bring to the prisoners and their families.
Andrei Burdyka’s mother has been searching for her son’s grave since he was executed in July 2011 in Belarus. Nina Semyonovna only found out about his death when she went to visit him in prison. Officials handed her his belongings and told her he had already been shot. She received his death certificate in September, but his body was never returned.
Andrei Burdyka, aged 28, was serving a sentence for an armed robbery committed in 2009. “He deserved to be punished,” said Nina, speaking to the local press in September, “but he should be buried according to the Christian canons. Andrei said he was afraid that they would bury him in a black bag, without a coffin.”
Belarus was the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union to carry out executions in 2011.