Belarus Suspends Two Death Sentences, Rights Group Says

The Supreme Court of Belarus has suspended two death sentences, the Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights center says.

Vyasna cites relatives of Ihar Hershankou and Syamyon Berazhnoy as saying that the court has suspended the implementation of the two men's death sentences while their appeals are being considered.

In a June 14 statement, Vyasna lawyer Paval Sapelka said the appeals offers a possibility that the sentence be commuted.

Appeals usually take at least one month to consider.

Amnesty International, which had earlier raised concerns about the planned executions of Hershankou and Berazhnoy, praised the decision to suspend the death sentences.

"This is a hugely significant and unprecedented decision for the only country in the region that has continued to execute people all these years. We are not aware of other cases where the Supreme Court of Belarus has suspended an execution,” said Amnesty Eastern Europe Director Marie Struthers in a statement on June 15.

"It gives us hopes that after years of discussion on the death penalty, Belarus is ready to walk the talk. We urge Belarus’ highest authorities to build on this development by immediately establishing a moratorium on executions and commuting all death sentences," she said.

In July 2017, the two men were found guilty of murder and kidnapping, after an investigation established that they were part of a gang that killed old home-owners in order to acquire their properties.

The European Union and rights groups have urged Belarus, the only European country that still executes prisoners, for years to join a global moratorium on the death penalty.

According to rights organizations, more than 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since it gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.