Belarus rock musician faces extradition on phony murder charge
Amnesty International has declared rock musician and social activist Igor Koktysh to be a prisoner of conscience who “is being persecuted for his political views.” Koktysh was tried on trumped-up murder charges in Belarus in 2001, and was allegedly tortured in an attempt to force him to confess, but he was acquitted after he proved he had been in another city at the time.
The prosecution appealed the case, however, and since 2007 Koktysh has been detained in Ukraine, where he had been living with his Ukrainian wife. He now faces a threat of extradition to Belarus and possible execution, but the European Court of Human Rights has asked that Ukraine not extradite Koktysh while they consider his challenge to his extradition.
According to Amnesty International, Koktysh was a member of the since-disbanded Belarus youth opposition movement, played in a banned rock group, and attempted to start an independent youth organization, which the authorities refused to register. From that point on, he was interrogated and surveilled by the local police and was eventually detained for the murder of a relative of a friend.
After being acquitted and moving to Ukraine in 2002, Koktysh continued to support the Belarus opposition with songs, videos, and website banners. The official Igor Koktysh support site includes photographs and a video.
A 2007 Amnesty International review of Koktysh’s situation explains that “Ukraine has abolished the death penalty, and has ratified the UN Convention against Torture which prohibits the return of anyone to a situation where they could face torture. In Belarus the courts continue to hand down death sentences and to carry out executions, although there are no figures available for the number of executions carried out. Execution is by a gunshot to the back of the head, and relatives are not officially told of the date of the execution or where the body is buried.”