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Execution with impunity

April 10, 2013

Vladislav Kovalyov was executed for a bomb attack in the Minsk subway - unfairly, his mother says. Lyubov Kovalyova tells of her fight against the death penalty in Belarus and her struggle to find her son's grave.

Lyubov Kovalyova
Image: Tatjana Ivanova

DW: Mrs. Kovalyova, how would you describe your experience of this past year?

Lyubov Kovalyova: Like the year before, it was one of fear and hope. I simply can't believe that my son Vladislav and Dmitri Konavalov have been shot. I still feel like my son is still alive - perhaps because I never saw him dead. I'm still hoping for a miracle. It's been two years since his arrest. At that time, there was nothing I could do to help my son. These days, I'm mostly busy with trying to find out from the Belarusian authorities where my son was buried. If I weren't trying to do that, my life wouldn't have meaning anymore.

You believe that your son had nothing to do with the Minsk subway explosion.

Dmitri Konavalov and my son Vladislav are innocent. Such an act couldn't have been carried out by amateurs. A whole system set this up. The two have been made into fall guys.

You've initiated an international online petition to abolish the death penalty in Belarus. How is that going?

The campaign was started in November 2011, before the executions were carried out, with help of the Internet platform change.org. We were able to gather more than 30,000 signatures from around the world in a petition demanding that the court consider certain facts which had been ignored and that the case should be reexamined. After the judgment, more than 100,000 people signed my letter addressed to heads of European states and governments. In that letter, I implored them to become active against the death penalty. I was received by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, where I presented documentation about the investigation and the legal process. But President Lukashenko ignored the demands of the international community.

Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitri Konovalov stand behind bars prior to a court session in Minsk, Belarus
Kovalyov (behind bars, right) and Konavalov (left) were sentenced to death in a controversial trialImage: picture-alliance/dpa

How did the Belarusian authorities react to your campaign?

Since the executions of Vladislav and Dmitri, not a single death sentence has been issued. We want to change Article 175 of the Belarusian criminal code. Paragraph 5 says that the body of someone who has been executed should not be handed over to that person's relatives. In addition, the location of burial is not disclosed. That's outrageous, but it's very convenient for the authorities, since it allows them to cover everything up.

In fact, after the sentencing on November 30, 2012, evidence was quickly destroyed. I contacted the KGB, the courts, the prosecutor and the Interior Ministry department responsible for carrying out the death penalty. I wanted to know who had administered the death penalty, and where my son's grave is. But I was just shuffled from one office to the other. Apparently, no one wants to take responsibility for the shooting.

Do you think it's at all possible that the case will be reopened?

The state won't allow that, even though the arguments of the prosecution fell apart before our eyes during the trial. One needs to know that even before the trial began, Lukashenko had promoted and decorated those who headed up the investigation. Of course, I think the case absolutely needs to be reopened, because the true culprits are still walking free and we don't know what to expect.

How do you manage to keep going through this fight?

I won't give up; I'll continue to demand further information on where my son is buried. Anyone can get caught up in this devilish system, through which my son and I have gone. That's already frightening enough, that this nightmare could be repeated for someone else. I think a lot about how many sons could have gone through the grinder like this, and how many mothers could spend sleepless nights crying, as I have.

On March 15, 2012, Vladislav Konavalov and Dmitri Konavalov - both 26 years old - were found guilty of carrying out a terrorist attack in the Minsk subway. During an explosion in April 2011, 15 people were killed and more than 300 people injured. Vladislav's mother Lyubov is convinced that the true culprits were not apprehended. She continues to fight against the death penalty in Belarus.

Interview: Galina Petrowskaja, Markian Ostaptschuk / sad