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Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut
HRODNA, Belarus -- Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut has had his request to be released on bail rejected by officials in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Poczobut, who is active in Belarus's ethnic Polish community, is a correspondent in Belarus for the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza." He was detained on April 6 and charged with "insulting the personal dignity and honor of the president" in his newspaper articles and online comments.

Poczobut's lawyer, Alyaksandr Birylau, told RFE/RL that he visited Poczobut in a pretrial detention center in Hrodna on May 6. He said Poczobut's morale is high and he receives many letters from friends and supporters every day.

Birylau added that the investigator in Poczobut's case, Arseni Nikolski, has refused to grant bail to Poczobut while the investigation is being conducted.

Poczobut, who is a leading member of the embattled Polish cultural organization the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), could face up to two years in jail if found guilty.

Minsk's treatment of the group strained ties between Belarus and the European Union last year, particularly after the ZPB was evicted from its office buildings near Minsk and police detained a number of its activists.

The ZPB has been trying for five years to regain official registration in Belarus. In 2009, Belarusian officials registered the Union of Belarusian Poles, an alternative organization representing ethnic Poles in Belarus that has friendly relations with the official Minsk administration.

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

Ethnic Poles comprise around 4 percent of Belarus's 9.7 million population.

Read more in Belarusian here
Siamak Pourzand was sentenced in 2002 to 11 years in jail.
The widow of a veteran Iranian journalist who jumped to his death last week has expressed shock at his suicide, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Siamak Pourzand, a prominent cultural figure who was jailed in his 70s on charges including adultery and spying, died on Friday (April 29) after throwing himself from the balcony of his Tehran apartment.

His daughter said Pourzand took his own life because of the severe depression he was suffering from. Pourzand had been under house arrest for the last five years and was barred from leaving the country and joining his family abroad.

His widow, Mehrangiz Kar, told RFE/RL that her husband's suicide came out of the blue.

"He was so hopeful to be able to see his children after 10 years, that I never expected this. But they took him to a point where he was not allowed to leave the country even under supervision to meet his children for one last time," she said.

"He was so hopeful to be able to see his children after 10 years, that I never expected this. But they took him to a point where he was not allowed to leave the country even under supervision to meet his children for one last time," she said.

She added, "We are going to pursue his last hope to establish a commission, similar to the one established in South Africa; a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, regardless of the regime in Iran."

Kar said Pourzand "hoped to live to see the day that such a commission would be established, where he could demand the rights and reveal his true story, speak of the actions taken against him, and at the end, forgive."

Official Harassment

Pourzand began his long career in 1952 as a journalist working for several independent newspapers, something he did before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

He later took over the management of Tehran's artistic and cultural center and was a cultural commentator for several reformist newspapers after 1997.

Pourzand was abducted by security agents in November 2001 and was held in solitary confinement for several months and tortured in an attempt to extract a televised confession from him.

He was sentenced in 2002 to 11 years in jail on charges of "spying and undermining state security" and "links with monarchists and counterrevolutionaries."

He later on also faced a charge of adultery.

Pourzand's health deteriorated in prison after which he was released on a medical parole, spending his last few years under house arrest and constant harassment from Intelligence Ministry interrogators.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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