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'Lukashenka Insult' Journalist Moved To Pretrial Detention Center

Polish-Belarussian Journalist Andrzej Poczobut
HRODNA, Belarus -- A Polish-Belarusian journalist charged with insulting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been transferred from a police station jail to a pretrial detention center in the western city of Hrodna, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Andrzej Poczobut, the Belarus correspondent for the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," was detained on April 6 and an order was issued for him to be held in detention for three days for planning to leave his home town illegally. The Hrodna prosecutor subsequently ruled that Poczobut should be detained for two months.

Poczobut's lawyer, Alyaksandr Birylau, was allowed to meet him in the pretrial detention center in Hrodna today.

Poczobut has been charged with insulting the personal dignity and honor of the president in newspaper articles and online comments.

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

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

The ZPB has been trying to regain official registration in Belarus for the past five years.

In 2009, Belarusian officials registered the Union of Belarusian Poles, an alternative organization representing ethnic 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 population are Poles.

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