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05/15/2012 Belarus (Forum 18) – Relatives of executed death row prisoners in Belarus remain unable to recover their bodies for burial, Forum 18 News Service notes. The mother of Vladislav Kovalev – one of two young men sentenced to death on 30 November 2011 and executed on 15 March 2012 – has tried to claim her son’s body for a Christian burial. Lyubov Kovaleva told Forum 18 News Service that the family is not very religious and went to church only from time to time. “But it is important to give Vladislav – like other people – a Christian burial,” she stated from her home in Vitebsk on 7 May. She refuses to believe that her son is guilty of the mysterious April 2011 Minsk bomb attack the authorities claim he participated in.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty. Death row prisoners are not told until the last minute the date and time of their execution. For this reason, they do not have the chance to receive a visit from a priest, or make a last confession and take communion if they wish to do so. Nor are families of executed prisoners told when and where they are buried. This prevents them, if they wish, from holding a religious burial service.

Aleg Gryshkavtsov, for example, was executed after arrangements had been made for an Orthodox priest to visit him but before the pastoral visit took place.

For more than two years, Svetlana Zhuk has been struggling to find out the burial place of her son Andrei Zhuk, who was executed in March 2010. She has appealed to international human rights organisations, complaining that she had been “denied the possibility to bury my son in accordance with the demands of Orthodox Christianity.”

Political prisoners’ rights to freedom of religion or belief also continue to be violated. Yevgeny Vaskovich for example, a Catholic and an activist of the opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, was initially jailed in January 2011 and subsequently sentenced to a seven year term. He is now in Prison No. 4 in Mogilev [Mahilyow], a maximum security prison.

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