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300 days have already passed since the detention of Andrzej Poczobut in Hrodna. According to his relatives, the investigation initiated against him and other activists associated with the independent Union of Poles in Belarus (an organization not recognized by Belarusian authorities) has stalled.
Andrzej's wife, Oksana, told "Wyborcza" that the Belarusian prosecutor's office once again extended the proceedings, this time until the end of February. She added that Andrzej’s prospects of a fair trial are rather poor.
- In his letters, Andrzej writes that there have been no investigative actions against him since October. His lawyer had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so we don't know at what stage the case currently is or even what charges are being brought against him- she explains. – It’s possible that investigators have added some additional charges. - We have no information about such proceedings but it is not unthinkable. Such things have already happened in the past - she comments.
Crackdown on Polish activists in Belarus
Lukashenko’s police dragged Andrzej Poczobut out of his apartment in the city of Hrodna on the morning of March 25 as part of an organized crackdown on Polish minority activists associated with the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB). Other prominent members of the organization, including Angelika Borys, Irena Biernacka, Maria Tiszkowska, and Anna Paniszyna were also detained.
In a press release following their arrest, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Belarus announced that criminal proceedings against members of the organization 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".
The official reason for their detention was the organization of the "Cursed Soldiers" National Remembrance Day in Brest. Poland’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz pointed out that the event was organized in cooperation with the Forum of Local Polish Initiatives, an organization officially recognized in Belarus, and that similar celebrations were held in the past without any protests from the authorities.
All five activists were initially detained in the Okrestina detention center. Next, they were moved to the harsh Volodarka detention center and stayed there for three weeks. Since May, they remain in the notorious Zhodzina prison, 50 km from Minsk. They were all looking at sentences of up to 12 years in prison.
Censorship: Belarusian authorities are withholding letters from Poland
At the end of May 2021, Irena Biernacka, Maria Tiszkowska, and Anna Paniszyna decided to agree to the conditions set by Lukashenko’s regime. In exchange for being released from prison, they agreed to go to Poland, thus renouncing the possibility of returning to Belarus. For each of them, coming back would mean many years in prison. As stated by the released prisoners, Andrzej Poczobut and Angelika Borys probably did not agree to the conditions set by the Belarusian authorities.
- I know that they are proud patriots, but I believe that you can do much more for your country if you are free – said Irena Biernacka.
By not conforming to the regime's rules, the already difficult prison conditions were to become even worse. At the time, Oksana raised the alarm that her husband, who has a medical history of heart problems, had not received necessary medication for some time, and that his contact with the outside world had been hindered by not receiving letters even from his closest family members.
Today he receives them again. He also writes letters regularly, also in Polish. But it seems that not all of the messages are being passed on to him.
- Andrzej doesn’t receive any letters from Poland, although I am sure they are being sent to him. However, he keeps getting mail from other countries, most recently from Belgium. Apparently, the censorship has completely blocked correspondence from Poland- says Oksana.
Angelika Borys could be seriously ill. There’s no information about her
More worrisome is the situation of Angelika Borys. While Andrzej's family and fellow activists are in contact with him, Angelika’s relatives complain about the lack of any information about her.
Andrzej Pisalnik, member of the Union of Poles in Belarus currently residing in Poland, reported in mid-January via the Znadniemna.pl portal: "According to our findings, since November, Angelika Borys has not sent a single letter. We are worried that this may not be related to the restrictions imposed on her by the prison administration, but rather to her deteriorating medical condition, which was already known in the autumn.
At that time, citing their sources, representatives of the Polish minority warned that Borys looked very ill and needed urgent medical examination by a doctor using ultrasound equipment and other tests, including blood, which "could exclude or confirm an advanced gastrointestinal disease, liver disorder or another serious illness".
Today, the activists associated with the Union of Poles publish their messages and pleas on the Znadniemna.pl website: "We call upon the Government of the Republic of Poland, Polish ministers, and numerous deputies and senators who publicly admit to being on friendly terms with Angelika Borys to take action to clarify the situation of the prominent activist of the Polish minority in Belarus, illegally detained for almost 10 months under the oppressive dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenko".
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