Andrew Osborn








Belarus sentences childhood friends to death for metro bombing, 30th November 2011 06:26

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

A Belarus court sentenced two childhood friends to death for carrying out a metro bombing that killed 15 despite widespread doubts about the men's involvement.

Belarus, which is Europe's last dictatorship is the only country on the continent to still have the death penalty. The court found Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov, both 25, guilty of terrorism for the attack, which killed 15.

Ignoring complaints from relatives and rights activists who alleged the pair had been framed, a court in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, sentenced the two childhood friends to death.

"The court has established that Konovalov carried out an act of terrorism," declared Alexander Fedortsov, the presiding judge, referring to the bombing of the Minsk metro in April that left 200 injured. "The motives involved an attempt to destabilise the situation and scare people. The court sentences them to the extreme measure of punishment, death by execution."

The two factory workers, who were held in a cage in the courtroom surrounded by police, showed no emotion as the sentence was passed. Some members of the public booed loudly however, shouting out that the trial had been a disgrace.

Unless the country's neo-Soviet president Alexander Lukashenko grants them a pardon, the pair will soon be blindfolded, forced to their knees, and executed with a single bullet to the back of their necks in a process that takes less than two minutes.

Mr Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm manager, had already said that he believes the two men should receive the "strictest punishment possible."

The bombing, which injured more than 200 people, happened soon after a brutal government crackdown on the opposition and came as the country slipped deeper into an economic crisis. It was all the more surprising because Belarus has no serious history of terrorism and is not riven by ethnic or religious strife. Nor has the anti-government opposition resorted to violence in the past. The trial itself appeared oddly stilted. Mr Konovalov initially admitted to carrying out the bombing but then refused to make an opening or closing statement or even testify in his own defence.

His co-accused Mr Kovalyov recanted his initial confession which he said had been made under duress however and reported that he had heard his friend being beaten during interrogation.

Mr Kovalyov's mother, Lyubov, claimed her son and his friend had been set up and had begged President Lukashenko to spare their lives.

"The accusations are based on statements made by my son and Dmitry which were given under physical and moral pressure. My son denied those statements in court. No other evidence of guilt was presented," she said. "While they try to persuade people that my son and his friend should be shot, the real criminals are going free."

Amnesty International condemned the sentence, saying the trial had failed to meet international fair standards and that it too suspected the confessions were forced and false.