When In Doubt, Shoot

Apropos of countries with capital punishment, what do you think the notification looks like which informs you that your relative has been executed? White letters on black paper? Mournful coloration and a red stamp with the national coat of arms? Or it’s a telegram? Clear and brief, no condolences. Will it be dated? Will it be personal? Will God be mentioned?

Human life is not the biggest value in the 21st century. So many die daily in car crashes, domestic accidents, street and domestic violence, diseases, hunger. Norms are changing. The Catholics are about to use condoms, conservatives are having a second thought about abortion. But capital punishment could still for many be just a part of normal life.

The politicians made a clever decision to write laws and proclaim the rule of law – all to prevent the irrational and emotional from dominating reason, to defend people from each other. In dubio pro reo – when in doubt, for the accused.

Well, people are still being executed, even though most civilised countries abandoned this measure to show that not just the accused or his family, but that the of whole society failed if he or she committed such a serious crime.

Again, apropos of countries with capital punishment. What do you think it feels like when the judiciary is not independent? When it is in dubio pro rex (when in doubt, for the king)? When you have no trust in the judgment?

Two young people were recently executed in Belarus. They were arrested the next day after a terrifying bombing in Minsk metro in April. The show trial took place in September in the House of Justice, where the accused where put on display in a cage on a big stage. Over five hundred volumes of evidence and hundreds of victims and witnesses’ testimonies were rushed through in 10 weeks. The sentence was the harshest: death row both for the terrorist and his friend, who knew about it but didn’t try to stop it.

The reaction of society was strange. It provoked discussion about the barbaric notion of state killing exactly because people had their doubts that the terrorists could be identified so quickly, that they confessed several bombings and 14 crimes all together and that their aim was no less than “destabilisation of the society.”

The family of the accused even stayed in Minsk with a victim of the bombing. Even the victims were afraid that toll number of casualties will simply go from 15 to 17.

People were not convinced, but not the king. On 14 March President Lukashenka dismissed the pardoning petition. Days later it became known that both convicts have been executed. The fastest capital case in Belarus ever. Now the volumes of evidence can be put in the bin.

What does the note look like? I can tell you. One day you get a short bureaucratic statement. You won’t even know the exact date when it was over for your closest family member.

The executed have no grave in Belarus. But those who have their doubts have been bringing flowers to the memorial of the victims who died in the metro bombing, people abroad have been coming to the Belarusian embassy. In memory of victims of the regime who they failed to defend.

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