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Belarus Detains Polish Journalist As Tensions With Warsaw Rise

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Andrzej Poczobut in 2018

Another member of the Polish community in Belarus has been detained by police amid rising tensions between Warsaw and Minsk.

Reports said Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist and a member of the Association of Poles in Belarus, was detained in Hrodna early on March 25, two days after its leader, Andzelika Borys, was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail.

"This morning, Andrzej Poczobut...was detained in Hrodna; a righteous and principled man, who has been fighting for the rights of Poles in Belarus for many years and has been repeatedly repressed by the Lukashenka regime," the head of the prime minister's office, Michal Dworczyk, wrote on Twitter.

He added that Poland will raise the issue of repression against Poles in Belarus through international forums. "We simply cannot agree to what is happening to our compatriots abroad," Dworczyk said.

Warsaw has also called for coordinated action to help the protest movement in Belarus, where protesters have rallied almost daily since a presidential election in August 2020 handed authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term amid allegations the vote was fixed.

The news comes a day after Poland accused Belarus of persecuting its Polish minority, calling on its government to stop "taking hostages."

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he would raise the matter during a videoconference of EU leaders on March 25, adding that he would propose limitations on the movement of goods across the Belarusian-EU border so that the authorities in Minsk would feel the economic consequences of their actions.

Poland, Belarus's neighbor to the west, has criticized Lukashenka, and has provided sanctuary for Belarusian opposition leaders and activists.

With most independent media shut down in Belarus, Poland has become an alternative work site for journalists. The independent Belarusian Belsat news website is based in Poland, as is Stsyapan Putsila, who runs the popular Nexta Telegram channel, which also offers uncensored news.

In a statement on March 25, EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell called on Belarus to release Borys and Poczobut "immediately and unconditionally, along with all political prisoners currently detained."

The EU "expects Belarus to uphold its international commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms," he added.

In a worsening diplomatic standoff following tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions this month, the Polish Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Belarusian charge d'affaires for discussions on March 23 but gave no further details.

Borys was arrested in the city of Hrodna in western Belarus near the border with Poland on March 23 and sentenced to 15 days in jail, Polish media said.

Belarusian media said Borys was being held on charges of violating mass gathering rules, citing the Interior Ministry. The Association of Poles in Belarus said it feared further "repressions" of the diaspora but would continue its work.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry was not available for comment and the government issued no statement on her arrest or on reports of several other Poles in Belarus being detained.

"I want to express my absolute condemnation of Andzelika Borys's arrest...we cannot condone taking hostages in this way. That's what you can call this sort of large-scale action that the Belarusian authorities are taking," Morawiecki said in a televised statement on March 24.

The prosecutor's office in the southwestern Belarusian city of Brest has also opened a criminal case into suspected glorification of war criminals, following a memorial evening in a Polish school in Belarus dedicated to Poles who fought against the Soviet Union.

The unofficial, commemorative event at the heart of the dispute took place on February 28 in Brest in honor of so-called "cursed soldiers," Polish fighters who initially fought against Nazi occupation and later turned against Soviet occupiers.

The soldiers often acted violently against non-Poles, especially Belarusians.

As a result of the incident, three Polish diplomats, including the heads of the consulates in Brest and Hrodna, were expelled, triggering a symmetrical response from Warsaw.

With reporting by dpa
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