Brothers Illia Kostseu and Stanislau Kostseu, sentenced to death without appeal in January 2020, were pardoned from capital punishment and sentenced to life imprisonment. This was reported by their relatives, who went to the detention centre in Minsk, which houses the country’s only death row, and learned that they had been transferred to a prison for ordinary prisoners. The two young men are no longer on death row, but in a normal prison in Zhodzina, reports the Viasna Centre for Human Rights, which learned this directly from their families. In the 30 years of independence of Belarus, there has only been one case of a pardon after the sentence had become final.
The siblings, together with their elder sister, had asked for clemency from President Aliaksandr Lukashenka and from many parts of the world associations and ordinary citizens had appealed for their safety. Tamara Ivanovna Chikunova, who died a month ago, had worked hard to combat the death penalty in Belarus and in particular for the situation of the Kostseu brothers. She had also sent an open letter to President Lukashenka asking him to pardon the two young men.
Illia Kostseu, 21, and Stanislau Kostseu, 19, had been sentenced to death on 10 January 2020, after the Mahilioŭ regional court found them guilty of killing their former teacher and setting her house on fire. Their story is one of poverty. Their mother Natalja, a single woman with three children, worked day and night to feed her family, often entrusting the two children to her older sister. Natalja held out for 13 years, but when Stanislav and Illia became 14 and 16 years old, they were placed in a family home, to which Natalja had to pay a third of her meagre salary every month, and was heavily in debt to the state.
Belarus remains the only European country that still adopts the death penalty. Executions take place in secret. The relatives only learn of the disappearance of their loved ones some time later, on a normal day when they visit death row. The relatives of Illia and Stanislau did not find them on death row on 30 April, but they knew they were alive.