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Journalist Charged With Insulting Belarusian President Goes On Trial

Supporters of Andrzej Poczobut, a Polish-Belarusian journalist charged with insulting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, protest outside the courthouse in Hrodna.
HRODNA, Belarus -- The trial of a prominent Polish-Belarusian journalist charged with insulting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka began on June 14 behind closed doors in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Andrzej Poczobut, the Belarus correspondent for the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," was detained in April and charged with "insulting the personal dignity and honor of the president" in newspaper articles and online comments.

Poczobut is active in Belarus's Polish community and is a leading member of the embattled Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), a Polish cultural organization.

He could face up to two years in jail if convicted or up to four years in prison if convicted of libel that damages the president's "personal honor and dignity."

Association of Journalists of Belarus Chairwoman Zhanna Litvina told RFE/RL that Poczobut's trial is politically motivated.

She recalled three similar trials of Belarusian journalists in 2002. "The fact that the trial is being held behind closed doors is additional proof that the case is politically motivated," she said.

Dozens of protesters, many of them holding placards demanding Poczobut's release, gathered in front of the court building as the trial started. Poczobut's wife and parents were also in attendance.

Acting ZPB Chairwoman Anzhalika Arekhva, who planned to travel to Hrodna from the nearby village of Lapenka, was unable to do so because police suddenly summoned her for questioning about fugitive journalist Alyaksey Saley, a correspondent for the Polish magazine "Magazyn Polski na uchodzstwie."

Arekhva said that when she refused to go with police for questioning they prevented her from leaving her relatives' house in Lapenka.

The authorities' eviction of the ZPB from its office buildings near Minsk last year and the detention by police of its activists strained ties between Belarus and the European Union as well as between Minsk and Warsaw.

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

In 2009, Belarusian officials registered the pro-government Union of Belarusian Poles, an alternative organization representing 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 people are ethnic Poles.

Read and listen to more in Belarusian here