Wiretapping controversy now in Belarus

April 22, 2016 19:35

The scale of the wiretapping allows assumptions that secret services were involved. Were these Russian secret services?

Last week, the Belarusian KGB arrested members of a criminal group which specialized on tapping government officials (mostly representatives of the law enforcement agencies - the Ministry of Interior, the Investigation Committee, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Customs bodies), businessmen and journalists (from the state-owned and independent media).

According to the KGB press service, members of the group tapped offices, phones, as well as hacked email accounts, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and social networks. This is the first disclosure of such crimes in Belarus and the first of such a large scale: more than 80 searches, 20 criminal cases under Article 203 of the Criminal Code - Violation of the secrecy of correspondence, telephone or other conversations, postal, telegraphic or other communications – were initiated against customers.

The information about customers of the wiretapping, which lasted three years, was not disclosed. However, the fact that the KGB officials made it all public probably means that they wanted to send a signal to some alleged customers. The scale of the group’s activities allows assumptions that it was somehow associated with the secret services. If these were the Belarusian secret services, the aggravation of the war between the law enforcement agencies had started. If, which is more likely, these were the Russian special services, this disclosure would be the first public suppression of their activities and a warning for the future.

Interestingly, there are some similarities between this case and a similar one in 2014 in Warsaw, reported by the Polish media.

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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.