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Belarusian Gang Members Sentenced For Highway Robberies, Killings

MAHILEU -- One criminal gang member was sentenced to death and another to life imprisonment by a court in the eastern Belarusian city of Mahileu on September 14 after being found guilty of robbery and murder, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Ihar Myalik was sentenced to death for the crimes while Alyaksandr Sychou was sentenced to life in prison.

The men are from the western city of Homel. They were found guilty of robbing and killing four foreigners -- citizens of Russia and Moldova -- in 2009.

Mahileu-based rights activist Barys Bukhel followed the case. He is an active campaigner against the death penalty.

Bukhel told RFE/RL that the two convicts were members of a criminal group that had stolen from people driving cars with foreign license plates on the Mahileu-Hrodna highway for several months.

He said the criminal group had three members. The leader of the group, Alyaksandr Kozyrau, was a founder of the Belarus Union of Jujitsu and Self-Defense. Myalik and Sychou were martial arts instructors in the organization.

All three were arrested one year ago. Kozyrau died in jail earlier this year.

Bukhel said Myalik and Sychou pleaded guilty, begged the court for mercy, and asked the relatives of their victims to forgive them. Their lawyers said they will appeal the sentences.

The Belarusian Constitution and criminal code allow for capital punishment. International and domestic human rights organizations have tried for several
years to persuade Belarusian authorities to annul the death penalty, as it is banned in virtually every European country except Belarus.