The authoritarian former Soviet republic of Belarus has expanded the use of the death penalty and has received international criticism for this. Legislative changes passed by ruler Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday mean that people can now be sentenced to death for allegations of an attempted terrorist attack.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the law could also carry the death penalty for pro-democracy activists and those opposed to Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The Lukashenko regime continues to suppress the pro-democracy and anti-war movements in Belarus, including through violence and these recent penal code changes.”

Blinken’s statement said the Lukashenko regime had filed politically motivated charges of “extremism” and “terrorism” against many of the more than 1,100 political prisoners. Tens of thousands of other people were also arrested under such allegations.

These are citizens who want to exercise their fundamental freedoms – “peaceful protesters, members of civil society, journalists, political opponents and those arrested for speaking out against Russia’s unjust war against Ukraine and Belarus’ supportive role in it have spoken”.