In 2016, four convicts were executed in Belarus, the only country on the European continent still practicing the death penalty. After a year and a half pause during negotiations on EU sanctions, lifted in February 2016, executions resumed and by the end of the year reached the highest number since 2008.
Belarus conducts regular killing of people on the basis of unfair trials, where self-incrimination is often used by the prosecution as the main evidence of guilt, and in an atmosphere of total secrecy. The whole process is largely under-reported and unknown internationally.
While on death row, convicts are treated by prison staff as if they are no longer “among the living". They are frequently denied lawyer’s visits, their correspondence with family members is withheld. Forbidden to take walks, death convicts are forced to spend all day in a 3 to 6 meter cell shared by two death convicts. Psychological pressure on a convict after cell-mate’s execution is tremendous, adding to the psychological anguish caused by the secrecy of the execution date. Families are not notified either in advance of the execution or immediately thereafter, resulting in situations when executions are concealed for nearly a month. Legislation prohibits handing over of bodies to families and revealing the place of burial. Previously the UN has qualified such practice as torture and ill-treatment of death convicts relatives.
Official information on death penalty cases is scarce and incomplete, whilst information on detention conditions for death convicts and execution procedures is not publicly available. There is no official statistics on executions. However, human rights defenders estimate that about 400 people have been executed since Belarus gained its independence in 1991.