Poland scorns Belarusian court's move against Polish news website

Poland's Foreign Ministry has lashed out against a decision by a Belarusian court which ruled that the Polish-sponsored news website Belsat and its associated social network accounts are 'extremist.'

The verdict was issued by a court in Gomel, south-eastern Belarus, on Tuesday.

Since 2007, Poland has sponsored the Belsat television channel, broadcasting in Belarusian and Russian to Belarus via satellite. The website and the social media accounts are part of the project.

On Wednesday, the Polish Foreign Ministry said it was "concerned with the decision of the Belarusian court in the matter."

"Defining TV Belsat's news reporting on internet portals as extremist is yet another element of a witch hunt by Minsk authorities - which has lasted for many months - against independent media and communities whose opinions differ from those of the government," the ministry wrote in a statement.

"We have asked the Belarusian side for explanations," the ministry also said.

According to the ministry, "restrictions against independent media and freedom of speech are part of the ever-expanding mechanisms of repression and intimidation of society which are unacceptable to the international community."

"TV Belsat has a stable position and strong reputation as a medium for independent and truthful information to Belarusian society. Any attempt to limit its operation will meet with our strong protest," the ministry concluded.

In a Tuesday communique following the court ruling, the Belarusian Interior Ministry said that "the basis (for the decision) were inspection reports from the Main Department for Fighting Organised Crime and Corruption (HUBAZiK) in the Gomel region."

For almost a year, Belarus has been gripped by mass protests against the Alexander Lukashenko regime, with hundreds of his opponents detained and many exiled. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 25 years, claims to have won a presidential election last summer, but his critics and the West say the vote was rigged.

The Polish minority in Belarus has also been targeted by Lukashenko, with several top activists arrested and accused of promoting Nazism.