In a recent development, the Supreme Court of Belarus has rejected the appeal made by journalist Andrzej Poczobut against his 8-year prison sentence.
Poczobut, a Polish-Belarusian journalist and a prominent member of the Polish minority in Belarus, had been sentenced in February for his critical reporting on President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
The court’s decision means that the verdict has now come into force, further tightening the already oppressive environment for freedom of the press in Belarus.
‘Harming national security’
Andrzej Poczobut was found guilty of “actions harming national security” and “inciting hatred” following his trial in Grodno, his hometown near the Polish border. The charges against him stemmed from his extensive coverage of the mass protests against Lukashenko’s regime and his refusal to leave Belarus even after the authorities initiated a severe crackdown on dissent.
The Belarusian regime, known for its brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2020, has continued to imprison hundreds of individuals and force many critics into exile. According to human rights group Viasna, there are currently 1,511 political prisoners in Belarus, highlighting the dire situation faced by those who dare to speak out against the government.
Poland, a neighboring country and a member of the European Union (EU), has strongly condemned the trial and called for the immediate release of Andrzej Poczobut.
In response to the rejection of the journalist’s appeal, Poland has announced its intention to impose new sanctions on Lukashenko’s regime.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski stated on Twitter that several hundred representatives of the Lukashenko regime responsible for political repression, including repression against Poles living in Belarus, would be added to the sanctions list.
Poland has become a safe haven for exiled Belarusians, and the Belarusian regime often singles out Poland as a particular threat. Lukashenko has repeatedly accused neighboring Poland of being behind the protests that have challenged his rule.
The Polish minority in Belarus consists of nearly 300,000 individuals out of a population of approximately 10 million. The rejection of Poczobut’s appeal and the subsequent reinforcement of his prison sentence will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in the country, exacerbating the already tense relationship between the Lukashenko regime and neighboring Poland.
The international community has also expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, with various countries and organizations calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to the repression of dissent.
Crackdown on journalists
The case of Andrzej Poczobut is just one example of the wider crackdown on journalists, activists, and opposition figures in Belarus. The Lukashenko regime’s efforts to stifle freedom of speech and suppress any form of dissent have led to a climate of fear and intimidation, leaving many individuals and organizations afraid to express their opinions or report on government abuses.
The international community, including the EU and other democratic nations, must continue to apply pressure on the Belarusian government to respect human rights, release political prisoners, and allow journalists to carry out their work without fear of persecution.
The rejection of Polish journalist Andrzej Poczobut’s appeal by the Belarusian court and the upholding of his prison sentence is a concerning development for freedom of the press in Belarus.
The decision further entrenches the oppressive environment for journalists and serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenko regime.
The international community must continue to speak out against these violations and take concrete actions to hold the Belarusian government accountable for its actions.