Belarus man loses death sentence appeal

Amnesty International has urged Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to prevent the execution of a death row prisoner convicted of a double murder.

Andrei Zhuk’s appeal against his death sentence was rejected by the Supreme Court on Tuesday. It is the second death sentence that has been upheld in Belarus this month.

Once he receives written notification of the rejection, the 25-year-old will have 10 days to apply to President Lukashenka for clemency.

The Supreme Court also rejected Andrei Zhuk’s complaint that he was beaten in custody on 1 March while in pre-trial detention, despite medical records that substantiate his claim.     

On 17 July 2009, Andrei Zhuk and two other men were found guilty of armed assault and the murder of a man and woman in February 2009. Andrei Zhuk was sentenced to death, while his accomplices got life and 13 years’ imprisonment respectively.

Andrei Zhuk’s lawyer says there were procedural violations during his client’s initial interrogation.

He has also cited the influence of the Belarus media, plus a statement by the Minister of Internal Affairs referring to Andrei Zhuk and his accomplices as “criminals” before they had been convicted, which violates the right to presumption of innocence.  

Another death row inmate Vasily Yuzepchuk, who was convicted of murdering six elderly women, was given 10 days to apply for clemency on 13 October. As yet there is no news on whether his sentence has been carried out.

The use of the death penalty in Belarus is compounded by a flawed criminal justice system that administers capital punishment in a manner that violates international laws and standards pertaining to the death penalty. There is credible evidence that torture and ill-treatment are used to extract “confessions”.

Condemned prisoners are given no warning that they are about to be executed and they are usually executed within minutes of being told that their appeal for clemency has been rejected.

They are taken first to one room where, in the presence of the Director of the detention facility, the Prosecutor and one other Ministry of Interior employee, they are told their appeal for clemency had been turned down. They are then taken to a neighbouring room where they are forced to their knees and shot in the back of the head.

Their families will only be informed days or sometimes weeks after the execution that their relative has been executed, and they are not given the body or told of the burial site.