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Belarus. Andrzej Poczobut celebrates his 50th birthday in prison

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Andrzej Poczobut, an activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus and a journalist, celebrates his 50th birthday on Sunday. In February, he was sentenced by a Belarusian court to eight years in prison. In a political trial, the authorities accused Poczobut of “inciting hatred”, including, according to the prosecutor’s office, “rehabilitation of Nazism”, and then also calling for sanctions and actions to the detriment of Belarus.

The independent newspaper “Nasza Niwa” considers Poczobut a “symbol of steadfastness”. Poczobut was persuaded to ask Alyaksandr Lukashenko for clemency, but he categorically refused.

– Andrzej did not let himself be broken, although he knew perfectly well what consequences awaited him. But he also knew that if he did, it would be used not only against him, but against the entire minority and against Poland. The authorities would use it for propaganda purposes as a “confession” – Barys Harecki from the liquidated Belarusian Association of Journalists told the Polish Press Agency.

Andrew PoczobutLeonid SHCHEGLOV / BELTA / AFP / EastNews

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Currently, Poczobut is in the custody of prison No. 1 in Grodno, where he is awaiting the date of the appeal hearing against the sentence announced on February 9. It will take place in front of the Supreme Court.

Activist of the Union of Poles on Belarus he was initially accused of “incitement to hatred”, including, as the prosecutor’s office claimed, “rehabilitation of Nazism”, and then also of calling for sanctions and actions to the detriment of Belarus. In October 2022, he was included by the authorities in the Belarusian list of “persons involved in terrorist activities”.

Repression against activists in Belarus

Poczobut is a Grodno activist and journalist. For many years he collaborated with Polish media, including “Gazeta Wyborcza” and TVP Polonia, reporting on the situation in Belarus. For critical statements about Lukashenko, who had been ruling Belarus since 1994, he was arrested and tried (he was eventually given a suspended sentence).

As an activist of the Association of Poles in Belarus Poczobut, which was not recognized by the Belarusian authorities and banned in 2005, he was passionate about history, and spent a lot of time e.g. researching the fate of Poles in the territory of today’s Belarus.

As highlighted by the center human rights Wiasna, according to the prosecutor’s office, Poczobut’s “mistakes” were to consist, among others, of that he called the Soviet attack on Poland in 1939 aggression, wrote articles about the protests in Belarus and the activists of the Polish underground during and after World War II, and defended the Polish minority in that country.

Together with Poczobut, in March 2021, the head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Andżelika Borys, Irena Biernacka and Maria Tiszkowska from ZPB, as well as Anna Paniszewa, a minority activist from Brest. Borys was released from custody in March 2022, and at the beginning of April this year. she was finally acquitted of the charges. She remains in Belarus, of which – like Poczobut – she is a citizen.

Angelica BorisJakub Kaczmarczyk/PAP

READ ALSO: Andżelika Borys: I don’t feel like a hero and I wouldn’t like to be treated like a hero

Biernacka, Tiszkowska and Paniszewa managed to leave Belarus in 2021 thanks to the efforts of the Polish authorities. However, they are unable to return to their country.

Since October, the activist of the Polish minority has been detained in the Hrodna detention center at prison No. 1. Previously, Poczobut was imprisoned in detention centers in Zhodzin and Minsk.

The Polish side demands the release of Poczobut and the removal of politically motivated, untrue allegations. The day after his conviction, the authorities decided to close the border crossing in Bobrowniki due to “an important interest of state security”, later further restrictions were introduced on the border with Belarus. MIA then stated that if Poczobut was released, the passages would be opened. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs assures that it is constantly working to free Poczobut.

Main photo source: Leonid SHCHEGLOV / BELTA / AFP / EastNews

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