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Jailed Polish-Belarusian Activist Starts Hunger Strike

Belarusian Polish minority activist Ihar Bantsar

Belarusian Polish minority activist Ihar Bantsar

HRODNA, Belarus -- A member of the embattled Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB) who was sentenced to five days in jail on June 15, has started a hunger strike, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Ihar Bantsar was found guilty of "minor hooliganism" in a trial that was held behind closed doors. He is on a dry hunger strike in which he is refusing all food and drink.

Bantsar's lawyer, Uladzimer Kisyalevich, told journalists after the trial that two policemen testified at the trial that Bantsar cursed them, using vulgar words in public, which according to judge Kseniya Stasyukevich constitutes "minor hooliganism."

Bantsar's wife, Anzhalika Arekhva, who is the acting chairman of the ZPB, told RFE/RL that the authorities jailed him to prevent his presence near the courtroom on June 17 when the trial of Andrzej Poczobut -- a Polish-Belarusian journalist charged with insulting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- is scheduled to resume.

The trial of Poczobut, the Belarus correspondent for the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," began on June 14. He is charged with "insulting the personal dignity and honor of the president" in newspaper articles and online comments.

Poczobut's wife, Aksana, told RFE/RL on June 15 that the authorities are doing everything they can to isolate Bantsar for the duration of Poczobut's trial. She added that the authorities may prolong Bantsar's jail sentence because she does not think that Poczobut's trial will be over in five days.

The authorities' eviction of the ZPB from its office buildings near Minsk last year and the detention by police of its activists strained ties between Belarus and the European Union, as well as between Minsk and Warsaw.

The ZPB has been trying for five years to regain official registration in Belarus. In 2009, Belarusian officials registered the pro-government Union of Belarusian Poles, an alternative organization representing Poles in Belarus.

The Polish government regards the ZPB as the only legal representative of the Polish minority in Belarus.

About 4 percent of Belarus's 9.7 million people are ethnic Poles.

Read more in Belarusian here