Three activists of Polish minority in Belarus released

Three members of the Polish minority in Belarus have been released from prison by Belarusian authorities and have arrived in Poland, the Polish foreign ministry announced.

Three Polish activists of the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), Irena Biernacka, Maria Tiszkowska and Anna Paniszewa, were able to travel to Poland on May 25 as a result of efforts by Polish diplomatic and consular services, the ministry said on its website.

Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told a Wednesday press conference that the three ZPB activists brought to Poland have been provided with due care, including medical. Their lives are not threatened and they are in contact with their families.

"These people have been given the necessary support and appropriate help," he said.

The arrest of Biernacka, Tiszkowska and Paniszewa was the result of repression against representatives of the Polish minority in Belarus and the ZPB by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. They were all facing up to 12 years imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Andzelika Borys, the head of the ZPB, is still being held after being detained by police in Belarus in March, as is Andrzej Poczobut, a senior member of the association, who was detained in Grodno, close to the Polish border, the same month.

Four of them had been charged with "deliberate actions aimed at inciting racial, national, religious or other social hostility" and "rehabilitating Nazism."

Przydacz said that these charges were "completely unacceptable and entirely political." He gave his assurance that the Polish state would continue to seek the dropping of charges against Borys and Poczobut and their release.

All five activists were recognised by human rights advocates as political prisoners.

Representatives of EU countries, as well as the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, appealed for the release of the ZPB representatives. The actions of the authorities in Minsk against the Polish minority were the reason for the announcement of another round of sanctions to be imposed by the EU against the Belarusian authorities.

Seated in Grodno, a city with a large Polish population, the ZPB is the biggest Polish diaspora organisation in Belarus. In 2005, the authorities in Minsk revoked its registration. The union's statutory activities include nurturing Polishness and Polish culture, teaching the language and maintaining memorial sites.