On March 9, 2023, the Office of the Belarusian President reported that President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus had signed the Law on Amending Legislation on Issues Related to Criminal Responsibility. Amendments introduced to article 356 of the Criminal Code would allow the death penalty for the crime of treason if committed by a public or military official.
The Criminal Code defines “treason against the state” as divulging state secrets of Belarus and state secrets of other countries entrusted to Belarus to foreign states and international organizations; engaging in espionage; switching sides in a military conflict; or providing any other assistance to a foreign state, or international or foreign organization in conducting activities harmful to Belarus’ national security. Previously, this crime was punishable by imprisonment for 10 to 20 years, with or without a fine. The amount of the fine associated with the penalty for this crime will reportedly increase tenfold to equal 50,000 basic monetary units used to calculate fines and fees (approximately US$700,000).
Another amendment to the Criminal Code provides for the extension of preliminary detention of those who are suspected in committing treason, espionage, or conspiracy to overthrow the government from three to 10 days and requires presenting formal charges within 20 days. The Office of the President explained that this extension would allow the authorities to conduct investigations more thoroughly.
Death-penalty-related provisions in the Belarusian Criminal Code were most recently changed in May 2022 by Law No. 165. These new norms allow imposing capital punishment in cases of attempted acts of international and domestic terrorism, terrorist acts against representatives of a foreign state, or attempts on the lives of public figures, even if a crime has not been consummated. (Criminal Code art. 67.2.) As in the past, the death penalty cannot be imposed on offenders under the age of 18, women, and men who have reached 65 years of age on the day the sentence is passed (Art. 59.2.)
Belarus is the only European country that still applies the death penalty.
The government of Belarus justified the adoption of this law by stating that the legal changes should increase the effectiveness of criminal legislation aimed at protecting the peace and security of humankind, human rights, freedoms, public and state interests, and the constitutional order of the Republic of Belarus.
Human rights defenders expressed concerns about the vague definition of “terrorism” in the Belarusian Criminal Code and the potential use of terrorism-related charges to prosecute political dissent. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned these charges as means of repressing and intimidating the democratic opposition and civil society in Belarus.
Prepared by Natallia Karkanitsa, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Assistant Law Librarian for Legal Research
Law Library of Congress, March 13, 2023
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