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Belarusian Poles Campaign For Release Of Jailed Journalist

Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut
Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut
HRODNA, Belarus -- A group representing Belarus's Polish minority is calling for the release of a prominent journalist charged with insulting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

The campaign for Andrzej Poczobut was launched today by the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), a cultural organization based in the western city of Hrodna of which Poczobut is a leading member.

ZPB acting Chairwoman Anzhelika Arekhva told RFE/RL that her organization has started collecting signatures under a petition addressed to the local prosecutor's office.

The petition demands that Poczobut, the Belarus correspondent for the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," should be transferred to house arrest while the investigation into his case is under way.

Arekhva added that signatures are being collected in other towns and cities in Belarus.

Poczobut, who was detained on April 6, has been charged with insulting the personal dignity and honor of the president in newspaper articles and online comments.

If found guilty, Poczobut could face up to two years in jail.

The eviction of the ZPB last year from its office building near Minsk and the detention by police of a number of its activists strained ties between Belarus and the European Union.

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.

Read more in Belarusian here