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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Rejects Clemency for Gypsy Execution

APBelarussian Gypsy Varvara Yusepchuk, 52, smoking as a picture of her son Vasily, who is convicted to face execution, lies on a table, left, in her home in the village of Tatarya, 320 km southwest of Minsk, Monday, Oct. 12, 2009.

TATARYA, Belarus — His last hopes fading, a 30-year-old illiterate Gypsy laborer whose lawyers say was tortured into confessing to murder awaits his unannounced appointment with the executioner.

With all appeals exhausted and pleas for mercy from rights activists and European officials unheeded, Vasily Yusepchuk is to be killed Soviet-style — with a bullet in the back of the head. The time and place is a state secret and if he is executed, his family will never be told when he died or where his body is buried.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko let the deadline pass Tuesday for appeals against Yusepchuk's death sentence despite pleas both from within the country and abroad at a time when the authoritarian leader is trying to woo Europe to counterbalance to Russia's influence here.

Belarus is the only country left in Europe that still conducts executions, according to Amnesty International. Under pressure from the West, Belarus has gradually reduced the number of executions in recent years.

But so far, Lukashenko has resisted calls to abandon capital punishment in Belarus, where rights activists say more than 400 people have been put to death since the country became independent in 1991.

Yusepchuk was convicted in June for robbing and murdering six elderly women over the past two years, although his lawyers argue that the case against him was fundamentally flawed.

Foes of Belarus' death penalty point out that former Judge Yuri Sushkov, who sought asylum in Germany in 1999, has claimed that judges were pressed to sentence people to death without adequate evidence and suspects were tortured into making false confessions.

"We are deeply concerned that Vasily Yusepchuk ... may face imminent execution after the Belarus Supreme Court has rejected his appeal against the death penalty," said a statement Monday from the 47-nation Council of Europe.

"We appeal to President Alexander Lukashenko to grant clemency to Mr. Yusepchuk, to declare forthwith a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Belarus and to commute the sentences of all prisoners sentenced to death to terms of imprisonment," said the statement issued by Council Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland and two other officials.

But Yusepchuk's mother Varvara knows that her son's chances have essentially vanished.

"Is anyone at all interested in the fate of an illiterate Gypsy?" asked the 52-year-old mother of five, who earns $35 a month working on a collective farm.

Slumped sadly in her decrepit home in the village of Tatarya, rats scurrying in the corners, she said she had given up hope. She has already tied a black ribbon around a photograph of her son.

Gypsies, also called Roma, face widespread discrimination. Yusepchuk, born in the Ukraine and brought to Belarus at age 7, is not a Belarussian citizen and his mother said his ethnic origin sealed his fate.

"I don't believe my son has killed anyone," she said. "They just found a defenseless illiterate Gypsy they can blame the killings on."

Investigators claim that Yusepchuk, an itinerant worker who did chores for elderly women, would sneak back at night to rob and strangle them. The murders shocked the country, and Yusepchuk was sentenced to death by Brest Regional Court on June 29.

"There's been a lot of talk about abolishing death penalty," said prosecutor Nikolay Zhechko. "Perhaps it will happen one day, but in this case the sentence completely conforms with the crime."