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Belarus Executes Two Convicted Murderers, Prompting EU Criticism

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Belarus has executed two convicted murderers, the human rights group Vyasna (Spring) said, prompting the European Union to redouble its calls for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government to impose a moratorium on capital punishment.

Vyasna cited the mother of Ihar Hershankou as saying on November 28 that she had been officially informed that the death penalty imposed on her son had been carried out.

A day earlier, Vyasna cited relatives of Syamyon Berazhny as saying that they had been informed that the 31-year-old had been executed by shooting.

Belarus is the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union that executes prisoners, drawing persistent criticism from rights activists and EU nations.

Berazhny, Hershankou, and two co-defendants were convicted of murder and kidnapping in July 2017, after investigators said they were members of a gang that killed elderly homeowners in order to acquire their apartments or houses.

Berazhny and one of his co-defendants, Ihar Hershankou, were sentenced to death and the other two were sentenced to 22 and 24 years in prison.

In June, the Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the death sentences against Berazhny and Hershankou amid calls by rights organizations not to execute the men.

Amnesty International, which had earlier raised concerns about the planned executions, praised the Supreme Court decision at the time.

The EU and rights groups have urged Belarus for years to join other countries in a moratorium on the death penalty.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that "the European Union reaffirms its strong and unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances."

"The death penalty violates the inalienable right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.

She called on Minsk "to introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a first step towards its abolition."

"Tangible steps taken by Belarus to respect universal human rights, including on the death penalty, will remain key for shaping the EU's future policy towards Belarus," Kocijancic’s statement said.

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 May.

Kocijancic's statement said that four executions have been carried out in Belarus in 2018 and two people remain on death row.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels
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