President sides with law enforcement in high-profile conflicts
Last week, TUT.BY journalist Pavel Dobrovolsky and two activists were detained and beaten by law enforcement officers at the courthouse before the ‘graffiti’ case hearing. Later, based on the testimony of MIA representatives, the journalist and activists were awarded large fines. In addition, the judge issued an unexpectedly soft decision against three graffiti artists who were also fined. Meanwhile, at the board meeting of the Interior Ministry, which discussed the results of 2015 and plans and tasks for 2016, President Lukashenka did not publicly comment on the incident with the journalist and only talked about the lack of serious complaints about the work of the police. Tough action against the journalist by the Belarusian militia was unlikely sanctioned by the senior Belarusian leadership. However, amid deteriorating economic situation, the president was prompted to demonstrate loyalty to the law enforcement bodies.
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.