Interior Ministry is interested in independent criticism of the police during the reforms period
On March 25th, former Deputy Interior Minister, Public Safety Chief Poluden was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and property confiscation for abuse of power.
Police reform creates environment for indirect cooperation between police and Belarusian human rights activists and independent journalists. Ministry of Internal Affairs is temporarily interested in disclosure of shortcomings in police work and to have additional leverage over employees.
The decision about staff cuts and restructuring in the Belarusian Interior Ministry was extremely painful for the police. Some reports say, it has been proposed to cut officers by 20-25%, which could imply lay-offs for over 15,000 employees. In addition, after the Ministry has been stripped off its investigative functions the Ministry’s influence had reduced. De facto, the Ministry has become exclusively the public safety authority.
Bearing in mind the still significant MIA status as the most numerous law enforcement agency in the country, the new Ministry heads are interested in strengthening not only the internal, but also the external – public – pressure on the police. These two motives explain the tough disciplinary and criminal sanctions against senior MIA staff (retirement of Deputy Minister Pekarsky, arrest and conviction of Deputy Minister Poluden, arrest of Internal Security Chief Krotov) and many scandalous and embarrassing materials about grass-roots police officers, “leaking” to human rights organizations and the media.
In particular, information leaks from within the Interior Ministry, such as CCTV footage from a police station or Interior Ministry protected areas (unauthorized access to the metro). On the other hand, it is important to note that the criticism of the MIA is sometimes quite reasonable. For example, on March 5th, Lida Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against five police officers on suspicion of detainees’ abuse.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.