Divided opinions on death penalty in Belarus
The survey was based on personal interviews with 1,100 residents of Belarus aged 18 to 75, conducted in April-May 2013, as well as the results of thematic focus groups.
The research was dedicated to studying public opinion on penal policy in its various aspects, including fairness of punishment, confidence in the penal system and attitude towards the criminals. A special focus was given to the awareness, opinions and motivation of the people towards the death sentence and alternative forms of punishment.
The research showed that opinion towards capital punishment was controversial. When asked directly about abolition of death sentences, more than half of the respondents (63.8%) said they support capital punishment.
However, when presented with alternative penalty measures (including a moratorium and life sentences), many also supported these measures.
Opinions on usage of the death penalty vary greatly depending on the respondents’ age and religious beliefs.
36.5% dedicated proponents of capital punishment
Among the 36.5% dedicated proponents of death sentences, the main argument is that it is an adequate retribution for a crime committed. An additional argument in favour of capital punishment is the feeling of safety. This argument is particularly common among women, older people and residents of provinces.
31.0% of the respondents are dedicated opponents of capital punishment and explain their position with the value of human life.
Similar motivations and logic are present in the people advocating a moratorium on capital punishment (12.4%). However, the moratorium advocates also explain their position with the imperfection of the judicial system and the risk of judicial error.
Regarding the people’s confidence and attitude towards penal policy in general, 73.5% are afraid of judicial errors and stick to the position: “It is worse to convict an innocent person than to let a guilty person evade punishment”.
Active proponents of death sentence believe judicial errors are rare or inexistent, stating that “people must trust judges” and their competence – effectively saying that the judicial system must be trusted by definition.
Opinions vary on Belarus’s penal system
The opinion of both opponents and advocates of capital punishment is based on their perception and attitude towards the functioning of the penitentiary system of the Republic of Belarus in general. Capital punishment advocates evaluate the current penitentiary system as adequate or too soft; they offer little sympathy for ex-convicts and are less willing to take part in the reintegration of people with past convictions.
Active opponents of capital punishment write off the penitentiary system in its current state as inadequate; they believe judicial errors are not only possible but actually happen quite often. For people in that group, the main sense of a judicial error is the risk of convicting an innocent person. Thus, people opposed to capital punishment are more sympathetic towards ex-convicts and their environment, and are more willing to take part in the reintegration of people with past convictions.
One in three Belarusians aware of the current death penalty situation
The level of awareness on the current status of affairs regarding the execution of death sentences is quite high, at 32.8%. Some 9.7% of respondents believe capital punishment has been abolished, 7.1% say death sentences have not been passed in many years, 5.5% that the country has signed a moratorium on capital punishment, and 10.5% could not answer.
This survey has also shown that most respondents observe low media coverage of the issue of capital punishment and its application in Belarus.
Only 5.9% said this topic is covered sufficiently in the national media. At the same time, stating insufficient levels of information on the running of the judicial system is combined with a lack of willingness to learn about it. The general background assumption is that evaluating any judicial process is strictly of the competence of specialists and needs no layman’s assessment.
The research was commissioned by Penal Reform International as part of the project “Towards abolition of capital punishment”, implemented with financial support of the European Union.