Belarus upholds 8-year prison sentence for newspaper journalist serving country’s Polish minority

Belarus’ Supreme Court on Friday sentenced a prominent journalist working for an influential newspaper serving the country’s sizeable Polish minority to eight years in prison.

The decision is considered part of a wider, year-long crackdown by the government on opposition figures, human rights activists and independent journalists.

The court rejected the appeal of Andrzej Poczobut, a 50-year-old reporter with Gazeta Wyborcza, rejecting all defense arguments.

In February, Pokjobut was found guilty of harming the national security of Belarus and “sowing discord”. The trial took place behind closed doors in the Belarusian city of Grodno. He has been behind bars since his arrest in March 2021.

Poczobut had extensively covered the mass protests that engulfed Belarus in the wake of the disputed presidential election in 2020 that handed authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term. Both the Belarusian opposition and the West have condemned vote-rigging.

Poczobut’s indictment pointed to his coverage of the protests, his statements in support of ethnic Poles in Belarus, and the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland as evidence of his guilt as an act of “aggression”.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said that Pokzobut’s appeal was considered behind closed doors without explanation. The journalist is currently in Grodno prison number 1. 1 and will now be transferred to a penal colony.

Poland’s foreign ministry vowed on Friday to continue calling for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. “The upholding of the 8-year prison sentence for Andrzej Poczo clearly shows the maliciousness of the Belarusian authorities regarding representatives of national minorities in Belarus,” the ministry tweeted.

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