TALLINN, Estonia — Belarus’ authoritarian president on Thursday signed a bill introducing capital punishment for state officials and military personnel convicted of high treason.
The amendments to the country’s criminal code endorsed by President Alexander Lukashenko envisage death sentences for officials and servicemen who caused “irreparable damage” to Belarus’ national security through acts of treason.
Belarus is the only country in Europe that hasn’t banned capital punishment, which has been applied to those convicted of murder or terrorism. Executions are 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 unleashed a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who protested his re-election in an August 2020 vote that 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 Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in absentia to 15 years in prison on charges including conspiring to overthrow the government. Last week, the country’s most prominent human rights advocate and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ales Bialiatski, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The bill that Lukashenko signed Thursday also introduced punishment for “propaganda of terrorism, discrediting the armed forces and paramilitary units and breaching the rules to protect state secrets,” mimicking the repressive legislation of Belarus’ main ally, Russia.
Russia used the territory of Belarus to launch its invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago and has maintained troops and weapons on Belarusian territory.
The endorsement of the new repressive legislation follows an attack on a Russian warplane at an air base outside the Belarusian capital on Feb. 26, which was claimed by Belarusian guerrillas. Lukashenko said earlier this week that authorities have arrested the main suspect, a Ukrainian man, and more than 20 of his alleged accomplices.
Political analyst Valery Karbalevich noted that Lukashenko’s move to toughen legislation comes amid growing public discontent over plummeting 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 increasingly unhappy with Lukashenko’s policies,” Karbalevich told The Associated Press. “The authorities are forced to tighten the screws and crank up repression to retain control over the situation in Belarus.”
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