Updated at 14:38,23-10-2020

“Are you sure that people will vote against death penalty?”

Anastasia Boika, Euroradio

“Are you sure that people will vote against death penalty?”
Photo: Euroradio
What is it like to know that you will be shot? Shot by the state. Shot in the name of every citizen of the country you live in. We can hardly imagine it.

People were asked about the death penalty at a referendum in 1996. 80% of Belarusians voted against its abolishment. 37.3% were not sure whether people were executed in Belarus in 2014 (CATIO survey).

The government does not want to abolish the death penalty referring to the results of the referendum. A moratorium can be imposed, rights defenders say. “I think that we are slowly and confidently heading for the cancellation of the death penalty,” head of the work group working on the death penalty issue in the House of Representatives Andrei Navumovich keeps saying.

When asked about a new referendum, he replied: “Are you sure that more than 50% of citizens will vote against the death penalty?”

Navumovich said the same to BCD organizing committee activist Tatstsyana Sevyarynets at a public discussion of the death penalty in Vitsebsk.

Andrei Navumovich: "The House of Representatives is not working on a new death penalty draft. And I do not think they should be. A referendum was conducted in 1996 and 80% of citizens voted for the death penalty. We know that more than 20 years has passed. The work group is informing people about this issue now. Judging by experience, citizens often lack information about this problem.”

The discussion was organized by the British Embassy to Belarus. A delegation of foreign experts and Belarusian MPs gathered in Vitsebsk. Sevyarynets asked Navumovich whether MPs were discussing the law.

Sevyarynets raised an important problem: we learn about executions from random sources. Death convict Vyachaslau Suharko reported the execution of Victar Letayeu and Alyaksei Mihalenya during a trial – they had been led out of the prison cell.

Vitsebsk activists asked numerous questions to Navumovich. The international experts mainly reported which states had already refused from capital punishment. Vitsebsk Region deputies did not say a word.

Vitsebsk is not the first city where such a meeting was held. The delegation visited Lida and all the regional centres except for Homel earlier. UK Ambassador to Belarus Fiona Gibb suggested inviting foreign specialists and he agreed, Navumovich said.

"When I am asked about my point of view, I simply cannot keep repeating the same thing 10 times! Search for it on the web, you will find it there. Why should I repeat it today? If you do want to hear it, I am inclined to support a moratorium on the death penalty. This is my personal point of view. Believe me, I did not stick to this point of view initially.”

“Are you sure that the public is informed enough? You have been studying the problem for so many years,” a person present at the discussion asked.

Navumovich: “We are trying to change people’s world outlook. I am doing it together with international experts. If I had not stuck to this point of view, I would not have been in the work group. We need at least some progress and I am working on it.”

There is nothing to add!

“Are you planning to inform the public in some other format besides such meetings,” concert organizer and coordinator of the initiative Vitebsk4.me Uladzimir Bulauski asked the MPs. “We organized concerts in support of the abolishment of the death penalty in Minsk and Brest. Hundreds of young people came to show that they were against capital punishment. Why don’t you take it into consideration?”

Navumovich: “How would people perceive such information at a concert? Won’t they decline it and say: ‘Mr. Navumovich, let us have fun at the concert, why are you imposing this position on us?’”

The actions are not for fun, Bulauski replied.

"This is a great PR action where printed materials and videos are distributed. It is not meant for relaxation.”

“Let us think about it,” Navumovich replied briefly.

"Are you sure that people will vote against death penalty?”

Lyubou Kavalyuova, mother of executed Uladzislau Kavalyou (in the centre)
Two Vitsebsk inhabitants, Uladzislau Kavalyou and Dzmitry Kanavalau, were sentenced to death for a terrorist act in Minsk metro. They were executed in 2012.

Uladzislau’s mother Lyubou Kavalyuova attended the discussion. She was silently looking at speakers during the meeting. “What did you personally suggest to do to abolish the death penalty,” she asked Navumau at the end of the meeting.

He repeated the question and replied after an awkward pause: “The system of the work that can be seen… I joined the work group in 2010. We organized a meeting in Minsk with the help of the Council of Europe. Lectures, seminars. I came to the conclusion that it was not enough, that we needed to go to the provinces and inform Belarusian citizens, inform you. You made it clear that you expected us earlier. This is my personal initiative realized together with UK Ambassador Fiona Gibb.”

The meeting ended and its participants set about drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. International experts talked to Kavalyuova. Andrei Navumovich quickly hid in the hotel corridors.