Belarus eyes wider death penalty use after anti-war railway sabotage

FILE PHOTO - Russian President Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome
FILE PHOTO - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Region, Russia April 12, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

KYIV, April 26 (Reuters) - Belarus moved on Wednesday to make attempted acts of terrorism punishable by the death penalty after activists tried to sabotage parts of the railway network to make it harder for Russia to deploy forces into Ukraine for its invasion.

The Belarusian lower house of parliament approved the change to the criminal code in two readings, the Belta news agency reported. The change now needs backing from the upper house and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko before entering force.

"Destructive forces are continuing terrorist (and) extremist activity by trying to rock the situation in Belarus, provoking domestic instability and conflicts," house speaker Vladimir Andreychenko said, alluding to acts sabotage on the railway.

"Actions are being taken to disable railway equipment and tracks, objects of strategic importance," He said. "There can be no justification for the actions of terrorists."

Russia used ex-Soviet Belarus, a close ally, as a staging ground to launch its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Minsk denies involvement in the conflict, but acknowledges that its territory was used for the invasion.

Throughout the assault, opposition media outlets said that acts of sabotage were carried out on the Belarusian railway in order to try to slow down the progress of Russian forces.

Those reports said they had targeted specific infrastructure to knock out some sections of the railway.

The Belarusian opposition that had called on Belarusians to block roads, said that there had been dozens of acts of sabotage.

The Belarusian police said at the beginning of April that it had detained at least two groups of saboteurs and that they opened fire before detaining sabotage in one case. At least two people were wounded, it said.

The Prosecutor General has charged them with terrorism.

Belarus currently has the death penalty for acts of terrorism that cause a loss of life, brutal murders and multiple murders.

The crackdown on protests over mass anti-government protests in summer 2020 has sometimes seen people charged with terrorism for crimes that might earlier have been considered hooliganism.

The Investigative Committee has for instance said one person was charged with terrorism for pouring red paint over the car of a judge and that another charged with the crime for throwing a rock at the window of a prosecutor.

Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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