Poland sanctions hundreds of Belarusians, freezes financial assets

Poland has sanctioned 365 Belarusian citizens and frozen the financial and economic assets of 20 entities and 16 other people linked to Russian capital after the Belarusian top court upheld a prison sentence on a Polish minority leader, the interior minister has announced.

Under the new sanctions, the 365 Belarusians will be barred from entering the Schengen Area.

Mariusz Kaminski had announced on Friday the government's intention to sanction the people after the Belarusian Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Andrzej Poczobut against an eight-year prison sentence.

A well-known journalist in Belarus and a long-term correspondent for Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, 49-year-old Poczobut was also an activist for the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), a Polish minority organisation that has been de-legalised by the Belarusian authorities.

He was found guilty in February of "intentional actions aimed at inciting hostility and hatred on national, religious and social grounds."

Poland responded by demanding his unconditional release while accusing the Belarusian regime of fabricating the charges. Internationally recognised as a political prisoner, other countries have joined Poland in calling for his freedom.

Poczobut's conviction has darkened Warsaw's relationship with Minsk and led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between the two countries, as well as the imposition of border restrictions.

Among the Belarusians on the sanctions list are MPs from both houses of parliament, who had not previously been subject to any bans as well as Viktor Lukashenko, the president's eldest son who is currently the head of the Belarusian Olympic Committee and in the past served as an advisor on security matters.

The list includes the most recognised state media journalists and propagandists as well as Natalia Ejsmant, the spokeswoman for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Sanctions were also imposed on Ivan Tertel, the head of the State Security Committee (KGB), Andrei Shved, the prosecutor general, and several dozen judges who were responsible for issuing political rulings.

Later on Monday, Pavel Latushko, a former Belarusian ambassador to Poland, said that the decision of the Polish government to extend the sanctions list against representatives of Lukashenko's regime and companies associated with Belarusian and Russian capital was very important.

He pointed out that Poland had set an example for other countries and for the EU, which for the past year has been unable to decide on a sanctions package.

According to him, "this is a very strong signal for the dictator's regime that he will be held responsible for crimes committed against Belarusian citizens and representatives of the Polish minority living in Belarus."