In the long distant past (before the Internet), we would all have heard relatively little dissension when a dictatorial regime decided to execute some of its citizens in a sham trial. Perhaps an intrepid few would have passed along their opposition (anonymously) to a rare foreign correspondent or phoned up a foreign radio station (such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) to complain. But it would be hard to gauge the reaction of normal citizens.

Now we have social networks, and that has meant a pretty good glimpse into the varied reactions to the executions earlier this week in Belarus of two young men for the metro bombing last year.

As TOL and others reported on 19 March, Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, two 26-year-old factory workers, were executed because of their involvement in the April 2011 bombing, which killed 15 and wounded 200. Many remain uncertain if the suspects were guilty of the crime, which some have also speculated could have been staged by the authorities as an excuse for a security crackdown. Kanavalau refused to make a final statement, while Kavalyou recanted earlier admissions he had made to investigators, saying neither he nor Kanavalau was responsible for the crimes. Critics of the trial pointed to the lack of physical evidence linking the men to the explosives, as well as the judge’s failure to call key witnesses.

Those deficiencies, coupled with widespread mistrust of the judicial system and growing disgust with the Lukashenka regime, have led to open (online) criticism of the executions.

Here are some typical reactions from the blogosphere:

ro_land says: I’m not against capital punishment, but only if a stay of execution is granted. There must be plenty of time for an appeal, assessment and additional investigation. The case must not have any debatable moments. For instance, [Anders] Breivik should have been executed. In case of Belarus, it all looks like covering up some tracks. There was no need to hurry.

Many bloggers believe the executed to be victims of the regime.

pawluk calls them “two other victims of the terrorist act”.

A debate was started in the comment section of the YouTube video where Kavalyou’s mother speaks about her son’s execution. Many people express their support and sympathy:

TheArchiezzz: Every citizen of Belarus is responsible for these deaths.

Spaghetttish: you must be blind not to see that Kavalyou and Kanavalau were made guilty, but they didn’t commit the crime.

maxus61: Belarus will eventually kill the moustached cockroach with a slipper.

On the other hand, not everyone was sympathetic:

Bzden1000: Let her [Kavalyou’s mother] meet the relatives of those who died in the attack, instead of travelling around Europe. For dogs, a dog’s death.

archanticipator: I’ve read the case. There’s an opinion of Interpol. There’s a decision of the Belarus court. I have no reason to doubt the sentence.

Pictures were also spread around the Internet of a portrait of Kavalyou that someone placed in the hall of the metro station where the explosion took place (the photo remained for only around five minutes before being apparently removed by a plainclothes policeman). Not everyone agreed with idea of displaying Kavalyou’s image:

oleg_kulagin: What if Lukashenko had executed [Andrei] Chikatilo [the notorious Ukrainian serial killer]? You would have brought flowers to his portrait too? The Belarusian opposition lacks brains.

The scanned letters from Kavalyou to his mother that started to appear on blogs sparked another wave of quarrels:

rina46: It’s like we are back in the medieval ages. Letters like these couldn’t be written by a terrorist and a cruel murderer. It seems to me that soon it would be enough to go outside to get a life sentence.

In response to many similar comments, xrenoff answered by posting a letter from Adolf Hitler to Josef Popp, his friend.

Many Belarussian users on VK (VKontakte), which is an equivalent to Facebook, used pictures of Kavalyou and Kanavalau as their profile, along with the mathematical equation 15+2=17. The 15 stands for the number of victims of the metro bombing and the two for Kanavalau and Kavalyou themselves.

A report also appeared on the Charter 97 website of a blogger being called up and intimidated, apparently by the KGB, because of placing the Kavalyou avatar on VK.

Overall, the online debate backs up the harder data that pollsters have reported. The Independent Institution of Socio-Economic and Political Research found that only 21.2 percent of the population believed Kavalyou and Kanavalau had carried out the crime on their own; 32.4 percent believed the two men had merely been acting on the orders of others; and 36.7 thought they were innocent.

Thanks to our intern, Anna Shamanska, for translating the comments mentioned above.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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