The death penalty in Belarus: families painful wait

By Heather McGill, Amnesty International researcher on Belarus

A local newspaper in Belarus reported on 20 July this year that Andrei Burdyka and another man had been executed. The authorities, however, were silent. For two months, the families of the two men have been waiting for official confirmation. Andrei Burdyka’s mother had been handed back some of her son’s possessions by the prison in July, but she remained hopeful that he might still have been alive.

Less than two weeks ago, on 23 September, Andrei Burdyka’s mother received a phone call from the regional court. She was told that she could go to the registry office to collect her son’s death certificate.

Andrei Burdyka and another man were sentenced to death on 14 May 2010 for crimes committed during an armed robbery on a private apartment in the town of Grodno in October 2009. The two men were found guilty of premeditated murder, armed assault, arson, kidnapping of a minor, and theft and robbery.

Now, after receiving the death certificate confirming that her son has been executed, the mother of Andrei Burdyka has spoken publicly for the first time to the local press about her son’s last year and her own loss.

In an article published in Vecherniy Grodno on 28 September, Nina Semyonovna described how her son spent his last year alone in his cell and was not even allowed to exercise: “They were already treating him like he wasn’t alive … he slept, ate and went to the toilet in the ‘cell’ without fresh air.”

During one visit to her son, Andrei Burdyka told his mother that he had companions in his cell – a spider, a fly and a mosquito – who eased his loneliness.

Andrei Burdyka’s family were not told the date of execution in advance, they were not granted a final visit and they will not be told of the whereabouts of his body in order to visit his grave.

The newspaper reports that Andrei Burdyka’s mother has visited cemeteries in Minsk, 300 km from her home, to try to find her son’s grave. She says: “He deserved to be punished, 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.”

It is time to stop state killings in Belarus.

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