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Belarus Cracks Down on Dissent with Eight-Year Sentence for Polish Journalist

Andrzej Poczobut (Via Andrzej Poczobut/Twitter)

Belarus’s Supreme Court has upheld an eight-year prison sentence handed to Andrzej Poczobut, a prominent member of the country’s Polish minority and a correspondent for Poland’s influential Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. The decision is seen as part of the government’s sweeping crackdown on opposition figures, human rights activists, and independent reporters. Poczobut, 50, was found guilty in February of inflicting harm on Belarus’ national security and “sowing discord” after a trial that took place behind closed doors in the Belarusian city of Grodno.

Poczobut has been behind bars since his arrest in March 2021 and has remained there despite his appeal being rejected by the court. His indictment pointed to his coverage of the mass protests that engulfed Belarus in 2020 following the disputed presidential election that handed authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term in office. Both the Belarusian opposition and the West have denounced the vote as rigged. The Belarusian Association of Journalists stated that Poczobut’s appeal was considered behind closed doors without explanation, and the journalist will now be transferred to a penal colony from his current prison in Grodno.

Andrzej Poczobut (Via Andrzej Poczobut/Twitter)

The Belarusian authorities have been cracking down on dissent and opposition figures since the disputed election, and Poczobut’s case is seen as part of this wider crackdown. The Polish Foreign Ministry vowed to continue calling for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus, stating that the upholding of Poczobut’s sentence shows the ill-will of the Belarusian authorities regarding representatives of the national minority in Belarus. Poczobut’s case has garnered international attention and has sparked concerns about the erosion of press freedom and human rights in Belarus. The country’s government has been accused of repressing opposition voices and independent media, with many journalists and activists being arrested and imprisoned.

The Belarusian authorities have justification themselves by stating that their actions are necessary to maintain national security and protect the country from foreign interference. However, critics argue that the government is using this language as a pretext to silence dissent and opposition voices. The increasingly authoritarian nature of the Belarusian government has sparked widespread international condemnation, with many countries calling for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of democratic rights. In the case of Poczobut, his eight-year prison sentence is seen as a symbol of the Belarusian authorities’ willingness to use imprisonment and repression to silence opposition voices and maintain their grip on power.

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