MFA appeals for release of Polish activists held in Belarus

Artur Reszko/PAP

A year after the arrest by Belarusian security services of two members of the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), Andzelika Borys and Andrzej Poczobut, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) continues to appeal for their unconditional release, the MFA said on Wednesday.

In a statement released on the anniversary, the Polish MFA said Poland's strenuous efforts to secure the pair's release had been consistently ignored by the Belarusian authorities, despite assurances of openness to dialogue and cooperation.

"This is testament to the cynical treatment of the imprisoned Poles as a bargaining chip in contacts with Poland and the West at large," the ministry wrote.

The foreign ministry drew attention to the fact that Borys and Poczobut's arrest represented further repression of the Polish minority in Belarus, aimed at subjugating Polish organisations to the Minsk government and preventing the free nurturing of their culture, traditions and connections with their ancestors' motherland.

"We are definitely opposed to such an approach and to all harassment of Poles living in Belarus," the ministry said.

The statement added the two activists' arrest, along with that of thousands of political prisoners in Belarus, symbolises the country's lack of respect of its international obligations in the field of observing human rights. The MFA added that discrimination against national minorities was in opposition to Belarus's tradition of multi-culturalism.

Andzelika Borys, the leader of the ZPB, was detained in the western city of Grodno on March 23, 2021, initially for organising a cultural event deemed "illegal" by the Minsk authorities but was later charged with inciting national and religious hatred and sowing discord on the grounds of national, religious and linguistic affiliation. The prosecutor accused her of promoting Nazism, a crime which carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison.

Two days later, Andrzej Poczobut, an activist and journalist, was also detained along with fellow activists Irena Biernacka and Marina Tiszkowska of the ZPB's regional branches. Charges were also brought against another ZPB member from the western city of Brest, Anna Paniszewa.

Belarusian human rights groups, the Polish government and the international community have categorically recognised the arrests as "politically motivated" and a sign of the wider repression of civil society organisations in Belarus.