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Journalist Convicted Of Defaming Lukashenka Loses Appeal

Ethnic Polish Belarusian journalist Andrey Poczobut
Ethnic Polish Belarusian journalist Andrey Poczobut
HRODNA, Belarus -- A journalist for a top Polish daily convicted in Belarus of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has lost his appeal, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

On September 20, the Hrodna Oblast Court in western Belarus upheld the verdict against Andrzej Poczobut, a Polish-Belarusian journalist who writes for "Gazeta Wyborcza."

Poczobut was found guilty in July of defaming Lukashenka and given a three-year prison term, suspended for two years.

Poczobut appealed the verdict, arguing that KGB investigators and the prosecutor's office violated his rights during the investigation and trial.

Poczobut told journalists on September 20 that he plans to appeal his verdict again at successive instances up to and including the UN.

Poczobut said the translation of his articles from Polish into Belarusian used by the investigators and later in court was undertaken "with violations of Belarusian laws."

Poczobut said his right to choose his lawyer was also violated, as the lawyer he selected in Lithuania was not allowed into the court room despite existing bilateral Lithuanian-Belarusian agreements.

"None of my official requests at the trial has been met, none of the witnesses was allowed testify in court," Poczobut said.

Poczobut is a Belarusian citizen, an ethnic Pole, and a leading member of the embattled Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), a cultural organization that has been trying unsuccessfully for several years to regain official registration in Belarus.

Poczobut's arrest in April sparked anger in Poland, which took over the European Union's rotating presidency on July 1.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in June that Poland would use all the EU tools at its disposal to ensure Belarus respects human rights.

In February, Poczobut served a 15-day jail term for participating in an unsanctioned protest in Minsk following Lukashenka's disputed reelection in December 2010.

Poczobut did not deny he attended the protest, but said he was covering it as a journalist.

Read more in Belarusian here