During his visit to Austria, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko spoke on the abolition of the death penalty, arguing that public opinion has not changed since the 1996 referendum.
“We often conduct opinion polls on the death penalty. Nothing has changed since the referendum took place,” the head of state said in Vienna. Perhaps Alexander Lukashenko was misled – the changes were recorded both by independent and official sociological studies.
The second referendum in the history of independent Belarus was held on 24 November 1996. Among the questions put to the vote by the president was the abolition of the death penalty.
The electorate at that time amounted to 7,346 million people. 6,181 million people (84.14%) took part in the referendum. One could vote “for” or “against” the death penalty; no third option was proposed.
According to official data, 6,101 million people voted on the abolition of the death penalty. 1,108 million people (17.93%) voted for the abolition and 4,972 million people (80.44%) opposed it.
More than 100,000 ballots were declared blank or invalid. Also, note that the 1996 referendum was advisory in nature.
Changes in public opinion
Unfortunately, opinion polls are rarely published. Most of them are conducted not by unofficial structures, but by international human rights organizations.
According to the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), 47.8% of Belarusians supported maintaining an exceptional punishment. 44,2% of Belarusians were against the death penalty. 8.8% found it difficult to answer.
In 2010, an IISEPS survey showed that 48,3% of respondents wanted to maintain the death penalty, while 42,4% were in favour of the abolition. The option “Not sure, could not decide” was chosen by 9.3% of respondents.
In 2012, according to IISEPS, the number of supporters of the death penalty increased again and reached 49,2% (40.7% for abolition). The number of “undecided” respondents grew up to 10.2%.
In 2013, Penal Reform International, a non-profit organization working on penal and criminal justice reform worldwide, published the results of its research conducted by SATIO.
More than half of the respondents (63,8%) supported the death penalty (36,5% unconditionally, 27,3% under certain circumstances). 31,0% of respondents opposed this punishment.
In 2016, an IISEPS survey showed that 51,5% of respondents wanted to maintain the death penalty, while 36,4% were in favour of the abolition. 12.1% of respondents found it difficult to answer.
In early 2019, the Information and Analytical Center under the Presidential Administration (IAC) presented the results of its study conducted in 2017. The death penalty was supported by 60% of the survey participants.
18,5% supported the abolition of the exceptional measure of punishment, 12,5% of the respondents supported the introduction of a moratorium. 9% of respondents chose a “not sure” option.
In October 2018, TUT.BY news portal hold online voting, in which more than 50 thousand readers took part (not an analytical study – BelarusFeed note.)
More on the topic:
41,25% supported the abolition of the death penalty, 49,01% supported its abolition, 9.74% of the readers found it difficult to answer or offered their own response option.
TUT.BY launched similar online voting this year – at the time of publication, more than 19 thousand people took part in it.
43.15% supported the abolition of the death penalty, 46.31% supported the preservation of an exceptional measure of punishment, 10.54% of the portal readers found it difficult to answer or their own response option.
If a referendum on the death penalty were held in Belarus in the near future, then, most likely, there would be more supporters of the death penalty. However, public opinion is changing, which means that the numbers would differ from the 1996 referendum.
Belarus remains the only state in Europe applying the death penalty. Since 1990, more than 400 people have been executed in Belarus. For all this time, only one person was pardoned.
In 2019, Alexander Zhilnikov, aged 44, was shot, and with him, probably Vyacheslav Sukharko, aged 24. Since the beginning of this year, three more death sentences have been imposed in Belarus.