Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus, took part in the working session “Tolerance and non-discrimination, including Roma and Sinti issues, including implementation of the OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti” held yesterday in Warsaw as part of the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.
During his speech, the human rights activist said that Belarus remains the last country in Europe and the former Soviet Union, which retains the death penalty in practice.
According to Andrei Paluda, 16 people have been sentenced to death since 2009, when the campaign was launched. Two of them belonged to the ethnic Roma.
“Particular attention should be paid to the way in which such events are covered by state media in Belarus. They often use hate speech, stigmatization, which leads to xenophobia and discriminatory behavior in society, as well as the formation of very negative assessments towards the representatives of the entire Roma national minority in our country,” said he.
Paluda cited the example of a TV show called “Secrets of Investigation”, which was aired in June 2013 on the TV channel Belarus-1. The show told of the murder of a prisoner, which was committed by Ryhor Yuzepchuk and his accomplice in Mahilioŭ prison. Yuzepchuk’s nationality was several times mentioned in the negative context. Meanwhile, the nationalities of the victim and his accomplice, who also had negative characteristics, were not mentioned in the story.
“This practice is discriminatory in relation to citizens of Roma origin and is evidence of low professional qualities of the journalists; it is done and with the connivance and sometimes on the initiative of public authorities.
For example, the state-controlled media are very often used, especially in rural areas, to publish ads that call for citizens’ vigilance towards Roma people. In fact, we can say that the entire nationality is stigmatized as criminals,” Paluda said.
The human rights activist cited another case that has caused a lot of questions — the case of death convict Vasil Yuzepchuk, who pleaded not guilty both during the investigation and at the trial.
“In his petition for clemency, Yuzepchuk said: “You are about to shoot an innocent man.” He claimed he did not commit any crimes. Yuzepchuk could neither write nor read. He came from a poor Roma family, and we assume that he could not properly represent himself in court and during investigation. Afterwards, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that the trial did not meet the criterion of independence and impartiality. Violations of the minimum guarantees of a fair trial, which resulted in the death sentence, constituted a violation of Yuzepchuk’s right to life,” he said.