On April 16, Elisabeth Rosenstock-Siller, Acting Deputy Chief of US Mission to the OSCE, delivered a statement on the situation in Belarus to the Permanent Council in Vienna. According to her, repression in the country has not stopped.
“We are particularly concerned by the authorities’ provocative, politically-motivated arrest of members of the Belarusian Polish community. These arrests have been accompanied by an increasingly virulent feed of anti-Polish propaganda on Belarusian state television, as well as pressure on Polish language schools to provide details about their teachers and students (including minors,” the statement reads.
Addressing Belarusian officials, Ms Rosenstock-Siller stressed that the citizens, including those of Polish descent, were not ‘their enemy’. The US side urged the Belarusian authorities to stop treating their citizens as such and instead respect their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“This state-sponsored repression of members of the Polish community is accompanied by a continuing broader crackdown in Belarus on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. We support efforts by the International Accountability Platform for Belarus to collect evidence of torture and repression to hold those responsible to account,” the top official said.
As reported earlier, 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 member Andrzej 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. Since then, Borys, Poczobut, Tiszkowszka, Biernacka have been behind bars; the Belarusian human rights community recognised them as political prisoners.
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.