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Europe

Belarus mother rallies support against death penalty

Lyubov Kovalyova has begun an online campaign against the death penalty in her country Belarus ever since her son was executed. She's hoping for European support to help keep up the pressure on the authorities in Minsk.

Lubov Kovaleva
Foto ohne Bezahlung

Ljubov Kovalyov is determined to keep up the fight against the death penalty

In March this year, Lyubov Kovalyova's son Vladislav Kovalyov was executed with a shot to the back of his head by the Belarusian authorities.

"For me, the nightmare has not ended. The body of my son has not been handed over to me," she writes on the Internet platform change.org. "I don't even know where he's buried."

Lyubov Kovalyova has tried hard to find out about where her son is, but to no avail.

"I even wrote personally to President Alexander Lukashenko but I never received an answer from anyone," Kovalyova told DW.

A combination picture shows Vladislav Kovalyov (R) and Dmitry Konovalov

The executions of the two men sparked outrage

In March, Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, both 26, were executed in Minsk. The two were convicted of carrying out a deadly attack on the Minsk metro last April which killed 15 people and injured more than 160.

Observers say the evidence against the two men was flimsy and the two were convicted in an unfair show trial.

Activists have criticized the justice authorities for tampering with evidence, extracting confessions under torture and handing out arbitrary sentences.

The European Union expressed outrage and strongly condemned the executions. Germany condemned them, saying they would further alienate Belarus from Europe.

Belarusremains the only country in Europe to carry out the death penalty. According to Belarusian law, family members are only informed after the execution. They are not told the place of burial.

Online fight

A flashmob uses body bags to protest in the Netherlands

Flashmobs in the Netherlands used unusual protests

Lyubov Kovalyova is fighting to change that and has urged the international community to support her online petition. She wants the authorities to hand over the remains of her son. She's also fighting the death penalty in her country.

"The authorities killed my son four months after the trial and deprived us of the right to appeal," Kovalyova said, explaining why she took to the Internet in her fight for justice.

She hopes to reach people across the European Union with her online campaign.

Her struggle has already generated support in parts of western Europe, especially in the Netherlands. Flashmobs have been organized in several Dutch cities, drawing students and artists.

In one protest, they confronted people in subway stations on their way to work with body bags containing living people. They also distributed invitations to the play "Trash Cuisine" performed by the underground Belarus Free Theater in Amsterdam.

Creative anger

A scene from Trash Cuisine by the Belarus Free Theater

The Belarus Free Theater is known for its bold performances

Nikolai Khalezin, director of the theater group, lives in exile in London. Harassed by the authorities for his political beliefs and plays, he was forced to flee the country after the presidential elections in 2010. He's now dedicated his creative energies to highlighting the human rights situation in his country.

"Trash Cuisine" is his latest play. It focuses on the death penalty and executions in different countries.

"We heard what happed to Vladislav Kovalyov from his mother," Khalezin said. At the end of the play, she takes to the stage of the Dutch Royal Theater herself and talks directly to the public.

"We want the mother to be able to bury her son according to Christian tradition," Khalezin explained.

The director said the people of Belarus had a right to know the whereabouts of the bodies of other people who disappeared including former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko, businessman Anatoly Krasovsky and journalist Dmitry Savadsky.

Khalezin points out that all political prisoners in Belarus today face a risk to their lives.


Germanyjoins in

Tobias Weihmann

Weihmann wants Germans to fight Belarus' death penalty

Among Lyubov Kovalyova's many supporters in Amsterdam is Dmitry Savelov, the eastern Europe and Central Asia coordinator of the Internet platform change.org.

So far more than 100,000 people from all over the world have signed the online petition against the death penalty in Belarus, he said.

"This Internet campaign will be a constant reminder to the Belarusian authorities that the international community is following the situation in the country," Savelov said.

Kovalyova's fight against the death penalty has also found resonance in Germany. Last December, German human rights activist Tobias Weihmann organized a protest at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin against the two executions.

"You can get the German public and lawmakers to pay attention to the problems in Belarus with plays like the one done by the Free Theater," Weihmann said.

He's now setting up a group that would carry out a similar project in Germany and ensure that Lyubov Kovalyova's appeal doesn't go unheard.

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