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Poland Apologizes For Information Leak On Belarusian Activist

Ales Byalyatski heads Vyasna, one of the most prominent human rights groups in Belarus.
Ales Byalyatski heads Vyasna, one of the most prominent human rights groups in Belarus.
By Gregory Feifer
Ales Byalyatski's arrest in Belarus last week on suspicion of tax evasion drew international condemnation. But it's since emerged that members of the European Union helped the case against him by providing the authorities in Minsk with his banking information.

Lithuania has already apologized to the family of Byalyatski, who heads Vyasna, one of the most prominent human rights groups in Belarus. Now Poland -- which has been a staunch defender of opposition groups in Belarus -- has admitted it also divulged information about bank accounts in his name.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski apologized for the leak on August 12.

"I'm sorry on behalf of the republic," he wrote on Twitter, calling the disclosure a "reprehensible mistake" and vowing to redouble efforts to support democracy in Belarus. He said Belarus had "taken advantage" of international counterterrorism procedures to request information about Byalyatski.

Earlier, the Foreign Ministry said the information was given over by the Prosecutor-General's Office, after the ministry had advised government agencies against doing so. By way of explanation, ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that the prosecutor-general was "not under the government's authority."

"Unfortunately, our warnings had no effect in one institution -- the Prosecutor-General's Office," Bosacki said. "Why not? That's a question for the Prosecutor-General's Office."

The Prosecutor-General's Office said it's conducting an internal investigation into who released the information to Belarus.

Embarrassment For Poland

The news is an embarrassment for Poland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency and has sought to play a leading role in advocating democracy and shaping policy toward the EU's former Soviet eastern neighbors.

In the Czech Republic, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry denied reports that Prague also gave Belarus information about Byalyatski's bank accounts, but said the government is still investigating possible leaks.

Amnesty International has declared Byalyatski a prisoner of conscience. He faces up to seven years in prison and the confiscation of his assets.

His arrest is part of an ongoing crackdown against critics of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka following his third reelection in December to another four-year term. Police beat and arrested some of the more than 10,000 people who took to the streets after voting many believe was rigged.

In Minsk, news of the Polish leak drew outrage among the human rights community.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Belarus Service in Minsk, a member of Byalyatski's Vyasna group, Uladzimir Labokovich, called it a "betrayal and complicity in the political repression in Belarus."

"It completely devalues all statements about commitment to democracy and the fundamental positions of some Polish politicians on the Belarusian regime," Labokovich said.

'Very Frustrating'

Viktar Karnienka of the For Freedom movement said it was hard to believe the Polish move was accidental.

"The majority of bureaucrats in new EU countries have forgotten [what kind of regimes] they used to have and at what cost [they were brought to an end]," Karnienka said. "It's very frustrating."

On August 11, the government said Lukashenka had pardoned nine of the 41 people convicted for taking part in the protests. However, a spokesman for Lukashenka told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the government would not name those released.

Among arrested opposition leaders is Andrey Sannikau, Lukashenka's closest rival in the election. He was sentenced to five years in prison in May.

News of the amnesty came shortly before the United States announced on August 11 that it would impose new sanctions against Belarus. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the action was taken against four companies.

"The sanctions are a response to the continued incarceration of political prisoners and the crackdown on political activists, journalists, and civil society representatives," Nuland said.

The EU and United States previously introduced sanctions including travel restrictions against Lukashenka and other officials.
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Comments
     
by: J from: US
August 13, 2011 00:59
Why would Poland be emabarrassed by such a trivial case? Give me a break
In Response

by: FF from: Hungary
August 16, 2011 12:28
Dear J,

It's not a "trivial case", since it is important to a lot of people. The governments mentioned here have undermined the democratic opposition in Belaraus, towards which they had claimed to be supportive. They showed themselves to either be incompetent or tragically divided in implementing their foreign policy, while damaging their international reputations... hence the embarrassment. Plus, an important activist will be imprisoned on political charges, and vital opposition funds may be lost.

by: jogana from: Gomel
August 14, 2011 03:22
Lukashenko was definitively not re-elected in December 2010, because a voting process which is not free, fair and transparent - like the voting process in December 2010 in Belarus - can't be called an 'election'. It was a voting process which did not meet the necessary criteria for being called 'election' in the end.
Dear journalists! If you have the desire to interprete elections in Belarus exactly the same way like the Lukashenko regime does, this is your right. On the other hand informed readers of your interpretation have to assume that you are not aware about the process which is called elections - as it happend in the article above.

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