Fearing a coup? Why is Lukashenko introducing death penalty for military?

Belarus is the only European country where the death penalty is still applied. It may soon apply to political prisoners and security officials. More than 400 death sentences have been carried out in the country since the 1990s.

Lukashenko wants to introduce the death penalty for military and government officials

On December 7, the parliament of Belarus passed in the first reading the bill “On Amendment of the Criminal Code,” which introduces the death penalty in Belarus for officials or military personnel who betrayed the state.

The fact that in Belarus, after the sudden death of Foreign Minister Makei, conspiracy theories about Russian plans to oust (kill) Lukashenko, and a strange visit by Russian Defense Minister Shoigu, they want to introduce the death penalty for military personnel and officials for treason suggests that Lukashenko is scared.

Lukashenko fears a coup attempt by the military

Despite all his statements, Lukashenko does not exclude the possibility that units of the Belarusian army will still be on Ukrainian territory and will not behave as he would like them to. And he fears a coup attempt.

This move has already become a trend for the dictator in Minsk. In April, legislation was amended to include the death penalty for attempted acts of terrorism. At that time, they concerned the broader population. They were prompted, among other things, by the anti-war activists in Belarus, so-called the “rail partisans”, who damaged the railways to prevent Russians from moving troops and weapons to Ukraine. Now the government targets the officials and the military in Belarus.

It’s easy to be accused of treason in Belarus

In Belarus, almost every statement against Lukashenko can be considered treason against the state. Several journalists were convicted under this article. It was also applied to the military who came out to support the widespread protests during the critical days of summer and autumn of 2020. They received substantial prison sentences. Now such individuals will face the death penalty in similar cases.

No matter how much Lukashenko and his entourage say that the 2020 election and protests are over, it is evident that the protest mood is still there. Looking at all the “purges,” dismissals, and arrests in Belarus, it is clear that there remain many dissenters inside the system, whom the authorities are afraid.

Death penalty to discourage miltary from going against Lukashenko

Naturally, it is impossible to prevent the split of the elites in the future with such threats. Instead, on the contrary, it can lead to the radicalization of those who, having weighed the risks, will still decide to go against Lukashenko – because they will understand that if they lose, they will face death under the law. Only the final overthrow of Lukashenko can save their lives.

Increased accountability for disclosing state secrets is also directed against disloyal state officials. And all this is in addition to the massive “purges” that have taken place in all state institutions.

But why does the Lukashenko regime need this now? What is the practical use of this new penalty? The repression machine in Belarus is already working according to Stalin’s technologies. Why cannot Lukashenko stop his policy of terrorizing society? Why does he feel threatened by his power, although there seems no danger?

Belarus may be preparing to join Russia in the war in Ukraine

Belarus may be preparing for the possibility of joining Russia in the war against Ukraine. Treason, in this case, would be considered as defecting to the side of Ukraine, surrendering, or maybe even refusing to fight. This amendment will apply to both military and civilians. 

The appearance of such an amendment is a sign that the state system is being prepared. It is being introduced, so officials avoid switching sides and provoking a split within the state system.

“The Belarusian regime is creating a mechanism of a repressive machine in case of mobilization and entry into the war. We can’t say that the decision to enter the war has been taken. We do not know that. We do not see any signs, but the system is being prepared for it,” says the Belarusian political analyst Artem Shreibman.

Death penalty to intimidate in the context of mobilization

In this context, the death penalty is set to intimidate in the context of mobilization. That is why the dictatorship also adopts amendments to the Penal Code, which provide for responsibility for discrediting the army, the same as in Russia at the beginning of the war.

Most Belarusians do not want the army to participate in the war in Ukraine. Lukashenko understands this decision’s risks, even the most loyal people may not agree to it. So, the regime has decided to intimidate them. And here, the prospect of the death penalty is created just for this purpose. And if the army doesn’t want to fight, there will be a way to punish them.

Belarusians do not want to die for Moscow’s imperial ambitions

Belarusians understand what awaits them in Ukraine, and they do not want to die for the Russian sick military imperial ambitions, and no one wants to die for Lukashenko either. The dictator understands this and creates an alternative for them in the form of the death penalty. 

This is a sign that all state institutions are preparing for the fact that such a moment may come. That doesn’t mean they’ve decided that they’re going to send the army, but they know that such a thing is possible, so they’re preparing.

The coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus,” Andrei Poluda, suggests paying attention to the legislative amendments of May 2022, expanding the scope of the death penalty, including for minor crimes. 

“We saw it as a response of the state to what was happening in society after February 24, including the actions of the so-called “rail partisans”. If we’re talking about the current changes in the law, they have a completely different subject. They used to be in the broad sense the citizens of Belarus; now the subject is more limited – they are either officials, officials or people with the status of servicemen,” points out Poluda.

He also believes that the authorities in Minsk are trying to avoid a crisis and minimize the risks for themselves. Poluda notes that for years, human rights activists have been screaming that the question of the death penalty affects everyone in Belarus.

The regime of Belarusian dictator Lukashenko

Lukashenko came to power in 1994 and has not left the presidency of Belarus since then. Recently, the dictator was seriously frightened after the sudden death of Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei. Lukashenko ordered his cook, guards, and attendants to be replaced by new personnel.

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