For almost two years, the Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut has been in a pre-trial detention facility on the charges of incitement of hatred. However, the Belarusian regime had been persecuting him for much longer.
During almost all his rule, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his regime had a strange relations with Poland, and now they can be definitely characterized as hostile. Being unable to direct his aggression against Poland itself, as a country, the Belarusian dictator attacks Poles in Belarus. The first to be affected are famous personalities: Polish activists and journalists.
On January 16, 2023, legal proceedings on the case of a journalist, a member of the Union of Poles of Belarus, Andrzej Poczobut, started in Grodno Regional Court. He is charged of calling for sanctions and incitement of hatred. The criminal case of Andrzej Poczobut consists of 86 volumes.
The trial of Andrzej Poczobut was supposed to start in Grodno Regional Court as long ago as November 28, 2022. Nevertheless, the proceedings have been repeatedly postponed: first to January 9, 2023, then to January, 16. The court is holding the trial in closed session, the case is tried by the judge Dmitry Bubenchik (Dzmitry Bubenchyk).
Andrzej Poczobut is accused under two articles of the Criminal Code:
Art. 361 (Appeals to sactions aimed at harming the national safety of the Republic of Belarus);
Part 3 Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (Intentional acts aimed at inciting hatred and intentional acts aimed at rehabilitation of Nazism, committed by a group of people). The maximum penalty under this article is up to 12 years of imprisonment.
Among other things, the enforcers considered as «incitement» the journalists’ words about the aggression of the USSR against Poland in 1939 in his article in Gazeta Wyborcza: there, he was speaking about cruel suppression of protest actions during the night of August 9-10, 2020, following the presidential election in Belarus.
Andrzej Poczobut was detained on March 25, 2021, in Grodno after the search conducted in the framework of the «Union of Poles case». Until now, he has been in custody in the pre-trial detention facility in Volodarsky Street, as a defendant in a criminal proceeding under Part 3, Art. 130 of the Criminal Code. Human rights defenders have recognized Andrzej Poczobut as a political prisoner.
Besides the journalist, three other representatives of the unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus from Lida, Volkovyssk and Brest were detained: Irena Biernacka (Bernatskaya), Maryia Tsishkouskaya and Hanna Panishava. Still earlier, the Chairwoman of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Andżelika Borys, was detained. All five are accused of «incitement of hatred».
Two months after their arrest, Irena Biernacka, Maryia Tsishkouskaya and Hanna Panishava were released in exchange to their deportation from Belarus. They were taken from the pre-trial detention facility directly to the Belarusian-Polish border. Now, the women live in Warsaw and in Białystok. The charges against them have not been dropped: currently, they are taking care of their families and doing social work, but avoid giving any comments.
It is known, that Andrzej Poczobut was offered release under the same terms, but he refused as he did not want to leave Belarus. Andżelika Borys was released not long ago under the written pledge not to leave country.
In August 2022, Andrzej Poczobut was additionally indicted under Article 361 (calls for restrictive measures (sanctions), other actions directed at harming national safety of the Republic of Belarus) of the Criminal Code. The penalty provided by this article is from 5 to 12 years of imprisonment. Interestingly enough, the article appeared in the Criminal Code in December, 2021. By that time, Andrzej Poczobut had spent almost 9 months behind bars. It is not specified how exactly he called for sanctions.
According to Andrzej’s relatives, he is kept in the pre-trial detention facility in Volodarsky Street in Minsk at «Shanhai», a basement cell, in which 25 people are kept at approximately 25 sq.m.. Before that, Andrzej Poczobut had been kept in a cell of the «execution corridor» of the pretrial detention centre for a month. One of the cellmates of Andrzej Poczobut passed that information to Polish journalists. The source told them, that from April, 14 to May, 17, 2021, the political prisoner had been kept in the cell where people sentenced to death pass their last days.
Andrzej Poczobut receives letters from his relatives, as they do from him. For some time, the correspondence with the younger son Yaroslaw stopped: allegedly, the letters «could not pass the censorship» as they were written in Polish. After the relatives had complained, the correspondence was renewed, and the pre-trial detention facility informed that those responsible had been punished. The political prisoner has health issues with his stomach: he eats nothing except the prison dietary porridge, and he has lost a lot of weight. At the same time, Andrzej Poczobut has no plans to quit and is not going to plead for mercy.
We repeat: the main accusation against Andrzej Poczobut is calling for sanctions, under Art. 361 of the Criminal Code, which provides for 5 to 12 years of imprisonment. Previously, he was also accused under Part 3 Art. 130 (Incitement of racial, national, religious or other type of social hatred or discord) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. A speech of Andrzej Poczobut about the Soviet aggression against Poland of September 17, 1939 (it’s not specified which one) has been interpreted as «incitement of national hatred».
To remind, on that day, the Red Army invaded the territory of Poland. In the result of that aggression, Western Belarus and Western Ukraine became part of the USSR. Also, «incitement to national hatred» was found in the article of Andrzej Poczobut published in Gazeta Wyborcza. There he was speaking about cruel suppression of protest actions during the night of August 9-10, 2020, following the presidential election in Belarus. In addition, Andrzej Poczobut is accused for the materials contained in the article published in the edition «Magazyn Polski» in 2006. The article was dedicated to «Olekh» (Anatol Radziwonik), one of the commanders of Armia Krajowa.
Political reasons of the persecution of Andrzej Poczobut.
The current attitude of the Belarusian regime to Poland can be easily detected from Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s quotes. The main and most fantastical claim he has ever presented to the Western neighbour is that it is planning to annex Belarusian territories. Such phrases have been heard from him in the last two years.
«For a long time, Poland has been trying to achieve leadership ambitions in Eastern Europe. <…> It’s acting categorically and blatantly! It has financed and provided with resources the radical opposition, for years has been creating centers of the recently failed rebellion. <…> Hoping for revenge, it has sheltered the runaways from Belarus and is forming an infrastructure to support them. However, it is not what raises most concerns. Unprecedented militarization conducted in Warsaw, buildup of military resources, plans to double the number of the army – it’s unlikely it is done for peaceful purposes. The position of Belarus is unambiguous: such escalation along our borders is unacceptable! Similar things already happened in the history 80 years ago, when Poland together with the Nazi Germany participated in the division of Czechoslovakia. It means, they have had that experience. Today, it is looking at us through a scope. They now want the whole Belarus, not just Kresy Wschodnie», claimed Lukashenka during his Address to the people and the National Assembly in January of this year.
The aggressive rhetoric of the Belarusian regime against Poland is turning into real actions. Minsk has almost no instruments at all to exhort any pressure on Warsaw, the only exception would be the migration crisis, deliberately created by the Belarusian regime according to a number of analysts. Indeed, the flow of migrants created certain headache to Poland and made it invest into an expensive multi-kilometer fence at the border of the two countries. However, it has been the only case when Minsk managed to create real trouble for the neighbours. Probably, it is due to lack of leverage on Warsaw, that the regime turned to pressurizing the Polish presence inside Belarus.
After mass-scale protests of the 2020, several waves of expulsion of Polish diplomats from the country (almost always accompanied by the mutual expulsions of representatives of the Belarusian diplomatic corps from Poland). Back in October, 2020, Belarus recalled its ambassadors from Lithuania and Poland for consultations; Minsk suggested to Vilnius and Warsaw to do the same (and they did). The Belarusian MFA explained that decision by «destructive activity» of Lithuania and Poland. Besides that, Minsk suggested to Vilnius and Warsaw to decrease the number of their diplomats in Belarus, what they did, too.
At the beginning of 2021, reprisals against activists of the Polish diaspora in Belarus started. On March, 12, the director of the Brest organization «Polish school», Hanna Panishava, was detained. On March, 23, the leader of the unrecognized by the regime Union of Poles of Belarus, Andżelika Borys, was detained. Two days later, activists of the organization gave notice about searches and detention of their colleagues. Enforcers came to search the home of the director of the community school under the Union of Poles of Belarus, Maryia Tsishkouskaya, and the head of the Union’s division in Lida, Irena Biernacka (Bernatskaya) (their electronic equipment, newspapers diplomas, everything connected to the activity of the Union got seized). The same day, the activist and journalist Andrzej Poczobut was detained in Grodno.
On March 25, 2021, the press service of the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office announced initiation of criminal proceedings against Andżelika Borys and others on charges of pursuing «aims of the rehabilitation of Nazism, justifying genocide of the Belarusian people».
In June of the same year, three out of the five detainees (Hanna Panishava, Maryia Tsishkouskaya and Irena Biernacka (Bernatskaya)) were deported to Poland. The MFA of Poland informed that their release had happened «in the result of the actions of the Polish diplomatic and consular services». Andrzej Poczobut and Andżelika Borys refused to be released in exchange to the deportation. The journalist is still imprisoned, while the head of the Union of Poles of Belarus on March 25, 2022, was transferred from the pre-trial detention facility under home arrest after having spent a year behind bars.
Also, in the year 2022, in Belarus destruction of the education in the Polish language started. In April, it became known, that Polish schools in Grodno and Volkovyssk were transferred to the Russian or Belarusian language of instruction. However, the regime promised that the possibility to study in Polish would remain. «Studying the Polish language and literature can be organized for one hour a week, only at the request of the parents and consent of the local authorities», reported the edition Rzeczpospolita. Nevertheless, information appeared at the beginning of June, that the school in Grodno would be totally Russified: the promised weekly hour of Polish was supposed to be canceled in September.
Meanwhile, Warsaw says that the schools in Grodno and Volkovyssk were built in the 1990s, and their construction was financed by the Polish state. Besides that, there is a bilateral agreement between Poland and Belarus guaranteeing education of ethnic minorities in their native language.
«This is a new stage of persecution of the Polish minority in Belarus. The fact that the only two Polish schools in Belarus are liquidated means that Polish education and teaching in Polish in Belarusian schools is liquidated», said Robert Tyszkiewicz, Head of the Polish Parliamentary Commission for Relations with Poles Abroad, commenting on the situation.
Then, the regime moved to graves of the Polish soldiers, numerous in Belarus. On July, 1, the MFA of Poland reported about destruction of tombstones and memorials, which happened simultaneously in several villages of Grodno region. On July, 4, it became known that graves of the Polish soldiers of Armia Krajowa (AK) were razed to the ground in the village of Mikulishki (the MFA of Belarus claimed that there were no Polish graves there). On July, 8, a burial place near the village of Kachichy was destroyed; on the same day the tombstone of AK soldiers in Volkovyssk was demolished. On July, 12, a resident of the town said the local authorities had a plan to demolish another memorial, too. The phenomenon became mass-scale and is widely supported both by the regime’s mass media and by the regime itself: e.g., back in May, the General Prosecutor of Belarus, Andrei Shved, called Armia Krajowa «Nazi criminals» and said an investigation of facts genocide of Belarusians by the AK was going on.
Separately we can mention the activity of the Belarusian propaganda which is unwinding a campaign to discredit the joint Belarusian-Polish cultural legacy.
«I believe, this crisis should result in a mass-scale depolonization of the historical memory and the humanitarian knowledge for Belarus. We should give a different assessment of the role of Radziwils and the Polonized nobility, and evaluate whether we should or not cultivate the figures of Polish heroes like Mickiewicz, Kosciuszko and Kalinoŭski only because they were born on the Belarusian land, since they tried to use the locals for their own aims directed at assimilation of Belarusians into the Polish nation», a pro-regime’s political scientist Alexei Dzermant said in November, 2021.
Even the unwanted Belarusian culture and episodes of history are announced to be Polish. Only in the recent time, there has been an episode when propagandists attacked a Minsk bar «Kalinoŭski» and the person of Kastuś Kalinoŭski who they call «Polish terrorist», as well as their outrage at the fact that the library of Astravetsky district is named after the notorious Belarusian historian, literary critic, author and journalist, Adam Maldzis.
On February 9, 2023, Andrzej Poczobut was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment in a maximum-security correctional facility.