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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Belarus. Andrzej Poczobut. Three years behind bars

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Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist and activist of the Polish minority in Belarus, has been in prison for three years. “He was the voice of Poles in Belarus and the voice of Belarus in Poland,” said Barys Harecki from the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

On March 25, 2021, the activist was detained in Grodno after a search of his apartment and then taken to a detention center in Minsk. Since May last year, Andrzej Poczobut is serving an eight-year prison sentence in the penal colony in Novopolotsk.

– Three years have passed since Andrzej was behind bars. We all remember the day when he was detained and taken to Minsk. This was the beginning of the story of his persecution and the so-called Polish affairs – Barys Harecki, deputy head of the Belarusian Journalists' Association liquidated by the authorities, told PAP.

Andrzej Poczobut. Photo from January 2023Leonid Shcheglov/AP/East News

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Long stay in custody

Poczobut was kept in custody for a long time – first in Żodzin and Minsk, and then in Grodno, where, after the end of the so-called investigation, he awaited “trial”. The first hearing took place on January 16, 2023, and the verdict was issued on February 8. Judge Dzmitry Bubienczyk, who decided to keep the trial secret, sentenced Poczobut to eight years in a penal colony with a strict regime. The appeal to the Supreme Court was a formality – the verdict was upheld because “Belarusian courts are not wrong.”

Poczobut has been behind bars for three years and is – as commentators emphasize – a “hostage of the regime”, a “special prisoner of Alyaksandr Lukashenko”. It is known that negotiations regarding his release were ongoing – and are probably still ongoing – between Minsk and Warsaw. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly assured that it is constantly taking steps to release Poczobut. After the verdict was announced, Poland closed the border crossing, saying directly that it would open it after the authorities in Minsk gave up the political persecution of Poczobut.

The head of the Ministry of Diplomacy, Radosław Sikorski, was asked about Andrzej Poczobut on Monday, and he replied briefly that “unfortunately, there is no new information.”

Andrzej Poczobut is still in prison. “The pressure options are very limited”Paweł Laskosz/Fakty po Południu TVN24

Alexander Lukashenko made it clear that he treated the prisoner as a political bargaining chip, for example by saying publicly that he could be exchanged for Belarusian opposition activists who fled the country to escape his revenge.

Poland one of the “main enemies of Belarus”

Poczobut's trial, as well as the repression against Polish organizations in Belarus, were part of the country's confrontational policy towards Poland, which intensified after the wave of mass protests against the rigged elections in 2020 in Belarus, and then – after Russia started the war with Ukraine. Poland was then and still is presented by the Belarusian authorities as one of the main enemies of Belarus, as well as a potential source of threat to its security.

– Andrzej is actually in prison because he was in the Association of Poles, defending minority rights and the Polish position. What angered the authorities even more was the fact that he was a journalist and did not give way to them, says Harecki.

Poczobut is an activist and journalist from Grodno. For many years he cooperated with Polish media, including “Gazeta Wyborcza” and TVP Polonia, reporting on the situation in Belarus. For his critical statements about the government of Belarus since 1994, Lukashenko was imprisoned and tried. As an activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus, which was not recognized by the Belarusian authorities and banned in 2005, Poczobut, a history enthusiast, devoted a lot of time to, among others, researching the fate of Poles in today's Belarus.

In a political trial, the authorities accused Poczobut, a citizen of Belarus and an activist of the Polish minority, of “incitement to hatred”, and his actions of cultivating Polishness and publishing articles in the media were considered “rehabilitation of Nazism”. Poczobut was also accused of calling for actions to the detriment of Belarus.

Zaucha: Lukashenka is very afraid of people like Andrzej PoczobutTVN24

He did not ask for a pardon

Together with Poczobut, they were also arrested in March 2021 the head of the Union of Poles in Belarus banned by Minsk, Andżelika Borys, Irena Biernacka and Maria Tiszkowska from ZPB, as well as Anna Paniszewaminority activist from Brest.

Biernacka, Tiszkowska and Paniszewa managed to leave Belarus in 2021 thanks to the efforts of the Polish authorities. However, they have no possibility of returning to the country of their nationality.

Angelika Borys was released from prison and is staying in Belarus after it was announced in April 2023 that the charges against her had been dropped.

According to available information, Poczobut was persuaded to ask Lukashenko for a pardon, but he refused.

“Testing Endurance”

– They have been taking it out on him for three years, testing his endurance, testing his family. Behind bars he is effectively cut off from information. Practically all the time since he was sent to the colony, he has been in a special cell (the so-called PKT, also known as a prison within a prison), adds Barys Harecki, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

– These are showy repressions. Perhaps the point is to break it. For him to plead guilty or withdraw his opinions. The regime would certainly like him to ask for a pardon, he adds.

As Harecki emphasizes, “Andrzej is not only Polish.” – He is also Belarusian, he is a journalist. He did a lot for journalism in Belarus and that's why we also remember him, he says.

Main photo source: Leonid Shcheglov/AP/East News



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