Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Belarus, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa056c.html [accessed 10 December 2013]
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Two prisoners of conscience were detained in April. There were reports of ill-treatment of demonstrators by law enforcement officials. At least 24 people were executed. In April, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed an agreement on closer integration with Russia which provoked a wave of protests and demonstrations. In the context of growing political unrest, the President held a referendum in November on amending the Constitution in an attempt to increase his constitutional powers over parliament, which he won overwhelmingly. In response to a question put forward during the referendum, only 17.9 per cent of people voted in favour of abolishing the death penalty. Vyacheslav Sivchyk, secretary of the opposition Belorussian Popular Front (BNF), was arrested on 26 April, with 11 other BNF activists, during a police raid on the organization's headquarters. Yury Khadyka, another prominent BNF member, was arrested on the following day near his home. The arrests followed a rally in Minsk on 26 April, organized to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, during which participants denounced the President's policy of closer ties with Russia and a crack-down on trade unions and the opposition press. Most were released after a few days, but Yury Khadyka and Vyacheslav Sivchyk were charged with "instigating mass disorder", for allegedly having organized the rally. If convicted, they face up to three years' imprisonment. They were released pending trial in May. There were reports of alleged ill-treatment of demonstrators by law enforcement officials. Regular police and special police forces reportedly beat and otherwise ill-treated a number of participants in the 26 April rally. On 30 May, police clashed with nearly 3,000 demonstrators who picketed the presidential administration building in Minsk. According to witnesses, police beat protesters who were demanding, among other things, that legal proceedings against Vyacheslav Sivchyk and Yury Khadyka be dropped. Reports stated that up to 84 protesters were detained for up to 15 days. About 50 of the demonstrators were hospitalized for injuries allegedly inflicted by the police during the clash. Some 20 people were reportedly injured by police in a similar incident on 17 November when police wielding riot shields beat demonstrators with truncheons and arrested more than 10 people during a peaceful demonstration against the President called the "March of Silence". At least 24 people were executed during the year, according to official statistics. They included Igor Mirenkov, who had been sentenced to death in August 1995 for premeditated aggravated murder (see Amnesty International Report 1996). He was executed in June after the President rejected a request for clemency. New official statistics on the use of the death penalty, released in September, stated that 20 people had been sentenced to death in 1990, 40 in 1994, and 46 in 1995. In January, the government informed Amnesty International that Igor Yurevich Kopytin's death sentence had been overturned by the Supreme Court and substituted by 15 years' imprisonment (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Amnesty International called for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience Vyacheslav Sivchyk and Yury Khadyka. The organization also called on the government to investigate allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. It also called on the President to commute all pending death sentences and continued to urge total abolition of the death penalty.