Rights groups condemn Belarus over executions


Two men convicted of carrying out a deadly bombing on the Minsk underground railway last year have been executed.

Belarusian state television said Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, both 26, had been put to death, which in the former Soviet republic is done with a shot to the back of the head. Mr Kovalyov's mother said she had been notified of his execution.

Rights activists condemned the killings as hasty, saying they deprived society of the opportunity to learn the truth. "The government was in a rush to throw a white shroud over all the contradictions and discrepancies in the case," Lyudmila Gryaznova said. "The execution of the so-called terrorists, whose guilt remains under suspicion, gives the appearance that the government is concealing the traces of the crime."

The men were convicted in November of planting a bomb in Minsk's busiest subway station, which killed 15 people and wounded more than 300 in April.

A spokesman for the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Baroness Ashton, said she was "aware of the terrible crimes these two men were accused of and her thoughts are with the victims and their families". He added: "At the same time, [she] notes that the two accused were not accorded due process, including the right to defend themselves."

Mr Konovalov had acknowledged his guilt but later withdrew a confession. Investigators claimed Mr Kovalyov was aware of the plans to bomb the subway but he insisted he did not take part and pleaded not guilty. Their defence lawyers said the evidence presented in court was circumstantial and inconclusive.

Critics of Belarus's authoritarian President, Alexander Lukashenko, accused his government of staging the bombing to divert attention from the worst economic crisis in the country's post-Soviet history.

Belarusians angered by the executions laid flowers and lit candles at the station yesterday. Flowers were also laid at the Belarusian embassy in Moscow, where someone placed a sign with photos of the two men and the words: "They were killed on Lukashenko's whim."