The Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences earlier handed down to Alyaksandr Zhylnikau and Vyaachaslau Sukharko for the murder of three people.
The judgment was pronounced after the court completed hearing Zhylnikau’s appeal, while Sukharko refused to challenge the verdict, the human rights centre Viasna reports.
During yesterday’s hearing, Alyaksandr Zhylnikau requested a new medical-forensic examination, which, in his opinion, could confirm his innocence to two counts of murder. However, the panel of judges saw no reason to meet the request. The convict’s lawyers argued that their client was not involved in the commission of the crimes, but was aware of the fact and helped Sukharko ‘overcome their consequences’. His guilt was not established on the basis of proven facts, but merely on the basis of the judges’ assumptions, the defense said.
Sawmill workers Sukharko and Zhylnikau were accused of murdering three people, robbery and stealing documents. One more defendant in the case, Alina Shulhanava, a nursery school teacher and former employee at the state-controlled youth organization BRSM, was charged with the organisation of causing a grievous bodily harm, which resulted in death, and preparation for abducting a person.
Vyachaslau Sukharko and Alyaksandr Zhylnikau were found guilty in December, 2015. In January 2018, Minsk City Court sentenced the two to death after a retrial. Shulhanava was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
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.
Four persons are currently on death row in Belarus, including Vyachaslau Sukharko and Alyaksandr Zhylnikau.