Belarus’ authoritarian president signed a bill on Thursday introducing the death penalty for state officials and military personnel convicted of high treason.
An amendment to the country’s criminal code backed by President Alexander Lukashenko envisages the death penalty for officers and soldiers who caused “irreparable damage” to Belarus’ national security through acts of treason.
Belarus is the only country in Europe that has not banned the death penalty, which has been applied to those convicted of murder or terrorism. Execution is carried out with a shot to the back of the head.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly three decades, brutally suppressing dissent. Belarusian authorities launched a brutal crackdown against protesters who opposed his re-election in August 2020, which the opposition and the West denounced as rigged, detaining more than 35,000 and beating thousands.
On Monday, a Belarusian court sentenced Lukashenko’s main challenger in the election, exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanusskaya, in absentia to 15 years in prison on charges including plotting to overthrow the government, among other charges. Last week, Ales Baliatsky, the country’s most prominent human rights advocate and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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The bill, which Lukashenko signed on Thursday, copies a repressive law from Belarus’ main ally, Russia, on “propaganda of terrorism, defaming the armed forces and paramilitary units and violating rules to protect state secrets”. Punishment was also introduced for
Russia used the territory of Belarus to launch its invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago and maintains troops and weapons on Belarusian territory.
Support for the new repressive law came after an attack on a Russian warplane at an airport outside the Belarusian capital on 26 February, which was claimed by Belarusian guerrillas. Lukashenko said earlier this week that authorities had arrested the main suspect, a Ukrainian man, and more than 20 of his alleged accomplices.
Political analyst Valery Karbalevich said Lukashenko’s move to toughen the law comes amid growing public discontent over dwindling incomes amid Western sanctions and the country’s role in the Russian war in Ukraine.
“Not only ordinary people, but also some officials have become unhappy with Lukashenko’s policies,” Karbalevich told The Associated Press. “The authorities are forced to tighten the screws and intensify repression in order to maintain control of the situation in Belarus.”
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