File photo of Konovalov and Kovalyov standing in a guarded cage during a hearing in Minsk
Dmitry Konovalov (L) and Vladislav Kovalyov are seen standing in a guarded cage during a hearing in Minsk, in this September 15, 2011 file photo. Kovalyov and Konovalov were sentenced to death on November 30, 2011 for organising a deadly bomb blast at a metro station in Minsk. REUTERS

Two men found guilty of setting off a bomb in a Minsk subway station in April, killing 15 people and wounding hundreds, were handed down a death sentence in a Belarus court Wednesday.

Judge Aleksandr Fyodortsov said the defendants, childhood friends Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov, both 25, pose an exceptional danger to society and an exceptional penalty should be applied to them.

Belarus is the only country in Europe where a death penalty remains legal -- it is also the last remaining dictatorship in Europe. The court ignored complaints from relatives and human rights activists who allege the two factory workers had been framed.

The court has established that Konovalov carried out an act of terrorism, Fyodortsov said. The motives involved an attempt to destabilize the situation and scare people. The court sentences them to the extreme measure of punishment, death by execution.

Unless the country's neo-Soviet president, Alexander Lukashenko grants them a pardon -- something he has done only once in 16 years - the pair will soon be blindfolded, forced to their knees and executed with a single bullet to the back of their necks in a process that takes less than two minutes, The Daily Telegraph newspaper of Britain reported.

Konovalov and Kovalyov, caged in the courtroom, showed no emotion when the sentence was passed, while others in the courtroom did it for them, booing and yelling that the trial had been a disgrace.

We have serious concerns that both Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov were ill-treated in order to force them to confess and that this trial does not stand up to international scrutiny, said John Dalhusien, Amensty International's Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director.

Belarus has a flawed justice system and routinely flouts international fair-trial standards, increasing the risk of a miscarriage of justice exists and of executing an innocent person.

Since the two were tried by the Supreme Court, the accused have no right of appeal.

Both men were arrested three days after the explosion on a packed platform during the evening rush-hour on April 11, Reuters reported. Konovalov initially admitted to carrying out the attack, but then refused to make a statement or testify in his own defense. Kovalyov recanted his initial confession, saying it was made under duress when he heard his friend being beaten during interrogation.

According to Amnesty, there are reports than an ambulance was called during Konovalov's interrogation. Furthermore, Amnesty reported, no forensic evidence linking either man to the explosion was found, nor were there any traces of explosives found on their person.

The bombing followed a brutal government crackdown on the opposition and came as the country slipped even further into an economic crisis.

Kovalyov's mother, Lyubov, who has led a campaign to save the two men, said before the sentence was passed, that any confessions had been made under duress.

The accusations are based on statements made by my son and Dmitry, which were given under physical and moral pressure in the preliminary investigation, she said in a statement. My son denied these statements in court. No other evidence of guilt was offered. While they try to persuade the people that my son and his friend should be shot, the real criminals are going free.

Human rights groups claim around 400 people have been executed in Belarus since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The death penalty is irrevocable and we oppose its use in all cases. President Lukashenko should immediately declare a moratorium on the death penalty and join the growing ranks of countries that have abandoned this barbaric punishment, Dalhuisen said.

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Belarus remains the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union which still carries out executions.