Belarusian human rights defenders recognise arrested Polish minority activists as political prisoners

On March 31, eight Belarusian human rights watchdogs issued a joint statement on the persecution and the arrest of five Polish minority activists.

As of 1 April, 325 persons have been recognised as prisoners of conscience in the country.

“It should be noted that these actions of the authorities are taking place against the background of anti-Polish propaganda on state TV, in which Poland is described as an aggressor, which allegedly has, among other things, territorial claims to the Republic of Belarus,” the statement reads.

Stressing that restrictions on freedom of opinion should not be imposed under any circumstances, the Belarusian human rights community concludes that the criminal prosecution of Andżelika Borys, Andrzej Poczobut, Maria Tiszkowska, Anna Paniszewa and Irena Biernacka is of apparent politically motivated nature, as it is aimed at creating the image of the enemy, both embodied by the Polish state as a whole and the Polish national minority, in particular, and therefore considers them as political prisoners.

Belarusian human rights activists call on the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to immediately release the representatives of the Union of Poles in Belarus, drop criminal charges against them, and stop pressure and persecution against members of the Polish national minority.

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Last week, the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case against Andżelika Borys, Chairperson of the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB), and other members of the organisation.

They are charged under Art. 130-3 of the Criminal Code (‘deliberate actions aimed at inciting national and religious hatred according to national, religious, language, other social affiliation, as well as through justifying Nazism, which were committed by a group of persons’). According to them, the Polish activists’ recent aсtivity, i.e. holding some events, is relevant to ‘the rehabilitation of Nazism and justifying the genocide of the Belarusian people’.

On March 25, homes of some members of the Union of Poles in Belarus were raided as part of the criminal case. Belarusian security officers made unexpected visits to Hrodna-based journalist and UPB memberAndrzej Poczobut (he was later detained and taken to Minsk for interrogation); Maria Tiszkowska, the director of the UPB public school in Vaukavysk; Irena Biernacka, the head of the Lida branch of the Union. The police also came to the Polish public school and the headquarters of the Union of Poles in Hrodna. The search of the office lasted eight hours, from 9 am to 5 pm. A day before, the Belarusian authorities sentenced Andżelika Borys to 15 days of administrative arrest.

In early March, a diplomatic conflict broke out between Warsaw and Minsk over this year’s commemorating the so called Cursed Soldiers by a number of Polish organisations in Belarus. This year’s commemorating the so called Cursed Soldiers by Polish organisations in Belarus resulted in the country’s Foreign Ministry’s expelling Jerzy Timofiejuk, a Polish consul in Brest, who showed up at the event. A bit later, Minsk also demanded the removal of Jarosław Książek, a Polish consul in Hrodna. The expulsion prompted retaliatory diplomatic steps – two Belarusian consuls were asked to leave Poland.

On March 11, Alyaksandr N., one of the co-founders of the Brest-based organisation Polish School, was arrested on the back of the criminal case launched over the celebration of Cursed Soldiers’ Day in Brest in late February. According to the Belarusian side, a group of persons ‘committed deliberate actions aimed at justifying Nazism and inciting national hatred’. On March 12, Anna Paniszewa (Hanna Panishava), the director of Polish School, was detained on her way to Belarus from Poland, then she was taken into custody as part of the above-mentioned case. Shortly before the detention, Panishava posted an appeal to the public; she believes that the authorities fabricate the charges, aiming at the liquidation of the school.

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