EU Outraged After Belarus Executes Two Men Accused of Metro Bombing
Alexander Lukashenko, ‘the last dictator in Europe’, ignores pleas for clemency as critics question fairness of trial
The two men executed for the Metro bombings: Dmitry Konovalov, left, and Vladislav Kovalyov during their trial last September. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
The EU and human rights groups have strongly condemned the execution of two young men in Belarus following their conviction for a deadly attack on the Minsk metro last April.
Late on Saturday, state television reported that Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, both 26, had been put to death. In Belarus, execution is performed by a shot to the back of the head. Kovalyov’s mother said she had received a note from the authorities saying the death sentence on her son had been carried out.
European governments said they were dismayed by the sentence and described the men’s trial as deeply flawed. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, described as “Europe’s last dictator” by the former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, had rejected pleas for clemency from the EU.
“Belarus is the only country in Europe which still executes people,” Thorbjørn Jaglan, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, said. “With its disrespect of basic human rights and democratic standards, the government of Belarus is increasingly isolating its country and its people from the rest of the world.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said she sympathised with the families of the 15 people who died and the 300 injured in the metro bombings, but stressed there was clear evidence that the two accused were not accorded due process “including the right to defend themselves”.
Human rights activists said they were appalled by the executions, saying they deprived society of the opportunity to learn the truth. “The government was in a rush to throw a white shroud over all the contradictions and discrepancies,” Lyudmila Gryaznova said. “The execution of the so-called terrorists, whose guilt remains under suspicion, gives the appearance that the government is concealing the traces of the crime.”
The executions appear to be Lukashenko’s brutal riposte to recent moves against him by Brussels. EU members recalled their ambassadors after Belarus asked the head of the EU delegation in Minsk and the Polish ambassador to leave the country. In February, the EU toughened its sanctions regime against senior Belarus officials involved in repression, imposing travel bans on a further 21.
In recent years, the EU has tried to involve Belarus in political dialogue. But relations worsened after Lukashenko launched a brutal crackdown on the opposition - including the arrest of several leaders - following street protests against his dubious election “victory” in late 2010.
Over the weekend, the opposition leader, Stanislav Shushkevich, was detained while travelling to Lithuania. Border guards confiscated his passport. Belarus now seems to have reinstated the Soviet-era practice of preventing key opponents from leaving the country, apparently in response to the EU travel bans on Belarus officials. The move comes before planned protest rallies next Sunday.
The two executed men were convicted in November last year after what activists said was a clumsy show trial. Kovalyov consistently protested his innocence. Investigators claimed he was aware of the plans to bomb the subway but failed to tip the authorities off. Defence lawyers said the evidence presented in court was circumstantial and inconclusive.