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Alyaksandr Zhylnikau's family were reported as saying on June 13 that he had been executed. (file photo)

The Parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has "strongly condemned" the reported secret execution of a Belarusian while his case was still under consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHCR).

PACE’s general rapporteur on the abolition of the death penalty, Titus Corlatean, said in a statement on June 17 that by executing Alyaksandr Zhylnikau in recent days "Belarus has once again shown that it does not fully subscribe to basic European standards, and its use of the death penalty continues to prevent the development of deeper relations with the Council of Europe."

"I reiterate my call on the Belarusian authorities to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty, as a matter of urgency, and as a first step towards its full abolition. It is the only way forward,” Corlatean said.

The Minsk-based human rights center Vyasna (Spring) quoted Zhylnikau's relatives on June 13 as saying that his death penalty verdict had been implemented.

It remains unclear if the second convicted person in the case, Vyachaslau Sukharka, was also executed.

Sukharka and Zhylnikau were convicted of murdering three people and sentenced to life in prison in December 2015.

In July 2017, the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by prosecutors and the case was sent for retrial, where the two men were sentenced to death.

At the same time, Zhylnikau filed a complaint with the UNHCR, which had subsequently asked Belarusian authorities to take "urgent measures and to avoid carrying out the death sentence" prior to the consideration of the convict's complaint by the committee.

Andrej Paluda, coordinator of the campaign Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty in Belarus, said the case shows that Belarus "does not share the human rights values and remains the last country in Europe and the former Soviet Union where people are executed by shooting."

Belarus is the only country in Europe and Central Asia to carry out the death penalty.

According to rights organizations, more than 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since it gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Two convicts were reportedly executed in November and two in May last year.

Russian journalist Igor Rudnikov is led to court in Kaliningrad on June 17.

A court in St. Petersburg has downgraded extortion charges against the editor of a newspaper in Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad and instead convicted him of a lesser charge of "arbitrariness."

The Moskovsky district, on June 17, said it had dropped financial extortion charge against Igor Rudnikov, and instead found him guilty of attempted "arbitrariness" and failure to inform authorities about holding an unspecified foreign citizenship.

The court sentenced Rudnikov to 550 hours of community work, but let him out of custody as he had been held for more than 15 months during the trial process.

Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Rudnikov to 10 years in prison on the extortion charges.

Rudnikov has insisted that the case against him was politically motivated and his lawyer has said that the investigative reporter was severely beaten during his detention.

The court's unexpected move to downgrade the charge against Rudnikov comes days after another Russian investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov, was released following Moscow's court decision to drop narcotics charges against him amid a public outcry.

Rudnikov, editor in chief of Novyye Kolyosa (New Wheels), was arrested in November 2017 and charged with extorting $50,000 from a senior regional law-enforcement official in exchange for halting publication of potentially damaging articles about the official.

Russian state news agencies reported from the Kaliningrad courtroom on November 3 that the target of the alleged extortion was Viktor Ledenyov, a senior Kaliningrad investigative official.

Some of Rudnikov's colleagues contend his arrest was retaliation for material published by the newspaper, including reports suggesting Ledenyov owns luxury real estate.

Based on reporting by Mediazona and Novy Kaliningrad

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