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“This morning, Andrzej Poczobut (Andrey Pachobut) was detained in Hrodna. This righteous and principled man, who has been fighting for the rights of Poles in Belarus for years, was repeatedly persecuted by Lukashenko’s regime. He is a leading member of the Union of Poles in Belarus. Andrey, hold on! We are with you!" - Michał Dworczyk, head of the Polish Prime Minister’s Office, Tweeted on Thursday morning.
On Tuesday, while reporting live on the arrest of the head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Angelika Borys, Mr. Poczobut was already being questioned by the Belarusian police. Ms. Borys was sentenced to 15 days in jail for organizing the annual Saint Casimir’s Folk Fair (Kaziuki).
The activists could face up to 12 years in prison
In a press release on Thursday, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Belarus announced that criminal proceedings against Angelika Borys, Andrzej Poczobut, and other UPB activists have been initiated under section 130 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, i.e. "intentional actions aimed at inciting national and religious hatred and discord on the basis of national, religious, linguistic and other affiliations, as well as the rehabilitation of Nazism”.
If found guilty, the activists could face a punishment of five to twelve years in prison.
"Crackdown on Polish activists"
The Union of Poles in Belarus, an organization representing the Polish minority in Belarus which Ms. Borys and Mr. Poczobut are a part of, is not officially recognized by the Belarusian authorities. It’s been operating since 2005 alongside the Association of Poles, which was established by the Belarusian government and is the only official organization representing the Polish minority in Belarus recognized by Lukashenko’s regime.
Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz said on Thursday that Belarusian authorities are currently searching the UPB headquarters in the city of Hrodna. - "The Consul is on the scene and has intervened to clarify the situation. The case of Mr. Poczobut and all the other persecuted Polish citizens cannot remain unanswered. We urge the authorities in Minsk to stop this wave of repression”- Mr. Przydacz wrote on Twitter.
Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, a journalist and founder of Belsat TV, has also reported on the wave of repressions against Poles in Belarus. - "Today, we can clearly see that the persecution of Poles in Belarus is intensifying. After the conviction of Angelika Borys and the arrest of Andrey Poczobut, there are now searches in the offices of Polish schools in Hrodna and Volkovysk. It is clear that the police are looking for materials related to the ‘cursed soldiers’ – Ms. Romaszewska wrote.
[The term “cursed soldiers” refers to a Polish anti-communist resistance movement with a controversial history of committing violence against non-Poles].
Belsat also reports on other ongoing searches in the homes of leading UPB members. In Vawkavysk, the police entered the house of Maria Tiszkowska, president of the local UPB branch and a key member of the organization’s central structures.
Moreover, the Office of the General Prosecutor of Belarus announced that it has opened a criminal case against the leaders of UPB for their alleged "rehabilitation of Nazism”. Since 2018, they have supposedly organized events celebrating the so-called “cursed soldiers”. According to the Belarusian authorities, the purpose of these events was to "inflame hatred based on nationality".
In Poland, the arrest of Angelika Borys has sparked a considerable reaction. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs took a stand, summoning on Tuesday evening a representative of the Belarusian diplomatic service and calling for the immediate release of the detained activist. An official statement appeared on the ministry's website, demanding an immediate "end to the arbitrary persecution of representatives of the Polish minority in Belarus”.
According to 300polityka.pl, the Polish government currently seeks to convince the EU and the US to take a stronger stance against Lukashenko’s regime. A stronger reaction would include sanctions imposed on prosecutors and judges who are directly responsible for the criminal persecution of Polish citizens in Belarus. The black-listed individuals would also be banned from entering Poland and the EU.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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