Belarusian Sergeants Jailed Over Death Of Conscript Who Complained Of Hazing

MINSK -- Three Belarusian Army sergeants have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms over the death of young conscript, Alyaksandr Korzhych, in October 2017.

The Minsk regional court late on November 5 found Anton Vyazhevich, Yahor Skuratovich, and Yauhen Baranouski guilty on bribe-taking and abuse-of-power charges.

Baranouski, who was also found guilty of theft, was sentenced to nine years. Vyazhevich received a seven-year sentence and Skuratovich was sentenced to six years in prison.

Korzhych, 21, was found hanged in the basement of the infirmary of the Pechy military training base northeast of Minsk on October 3, 2017, less than five months after he was drafted.

His feet were tied with a shoestring, and he had a T-shirt over his head. His relatives say he complained of being the target of hazing by senior officers.

Relatives say he was mostly being pressured for money by his superiors.

Korzhych's former commanders, Senior Lieutenant Paval Sukavenka and Ensign Artur Virbal, were tried separately in the case on October 19. They were convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to six and four years in prison, respectively.

Korzhych was the second conscript found hanged at an army base in Belarus in less than six months, sparking a debate about hazing in the army and calls for the defense minister's resignation.

The Investigative Committee initially said the cause of Korzhych's death was suicide. But after his family and human rights activists started a campaign urging authorities to investigate the death, the committee launched an investigation into violations of army regulations, abuse of authority, and fraud.

Korzhych’s mother said after the sentences were pronounced on November 5 that she will appeal. She insists her son was murdered, not pressured into committing suicide.

Hazing has been a serious problem in militaries throughout former Soviet republics, with extortion frequently reported by victims.

In Belarus, 37 suicides were recorded in the army from 2008 and 2017, according to Defense Ministry statistics.

Media reports said that in 2017 alone there were four apparent suicides in the Belarusian armed forces.