Belarus has executed two estate agents who conned six vulnerable people into giving up their homes then killed them and buried them alive.
Igor Gershankov, 37, and Semyon Berezhnov, 32, were ordered to kneel then shot in the back of the head with a pistol by a state executioner in a Minsk jail.
The killers rented flats for a day and pretended they were selling them to customers, taking their old houses before spiking their vodka and murdering them.
Gershankov's wife Tatiana, mother of the couple's two children, was sentenced to 24 years, escaping the death penalty as Belarus - the last country in Europe to carry it out - does not execute women.
A fourth member of the gang of 'evil' estate agents, Boris Kolyosnikov, 22, was jailed for 22 years.
Hardline president Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for almost a quarter of a century in what has been dubbed Europe's 'last dictatorship', refused to pardon the pair.
Their families were not informed in advance that the men would be killed nor permitted a final meeting.
The group were convicted of persuading six lonely 'alcoholics' who lived on their own in Mogilyov region to swap their flats for smaller apartments and a cash sum.
The death sentence verdicts were upheld by Belarus's Supreme Court on 20 December last year.
The men filed appeals to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but appear to have been executed before the due process had completed. They had claimed confessions were 'forcibly' extracted from them.
It is unclear exactly when the executions were carried out as the authorities routinely do not give details, but they are said to take place at a jail known as SIZO No 1 in Minsk.
The former head of the facility Oleg Alkaev said that on occasions he had to take two or three shots if the doctor present recorded a heart beat after the first bullet.
The method of execution is similar to that used in Soviet times under Stalin.
Gershankov's mother 'received confirmation that the sentence was carried out from the Mogilyov regional court on November 28,' said human rights group Vesna.
Earlier in a court hearing footage showed a tearful Tatiana Gershankova pleading from a court cage surrounded by armed police: 'I have two children. I am not responsible for these crimes. Why me?'
Longtime strongman Lukashenko, a 64-year-old former collective farmer, is known to have pardoned only one death row inmate.
The EU, the OSCE and a strong of international organisations have condemned the death penalty in Belarus.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee said this month that the death penalty 'continues to be imposed and enforced' and the country has not complied with its requests for a delay in sentencing or execution in six recent cases.
It also condemned the practice of not informing relatives of the date execution and not allowing them to bury the body as 'traumatic' and 'inhumane treatment.'
This month Amnesty International said only action by Lukashenko could ban the death penalty in Belarus.
There have been suggestions a referendum should be held but a spokeswoman for the organisation said: 'As history shows, a majority of the population are in favour of retaining the death penalty.'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.