Arrested Polish minority activists are political prisoners
Joint statement of the Belarusian human rights community
We demand the immediate release of Andżelika Borys, Andrzej Poczobut, Maria Tiszkowska, Anna Paniszewa and Irena Biernacka, and the cessation of pressure and intimidation against members of the Polish minority in Belarus
Minsk – March 31, 2021
On March 25, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus said that it had opened a criminal case against Andżelika Borys, chairwoman of the Union of Poles in Belarus, and four other members of the organization Andrzej Poczobut, Maria Tiszkowska, Anna Paniszewa and Irena Biernacka. The activists faced charges under Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code, “intentional actions aimed at inciting national and religious hostility on the grounds of national, religious, linguistic and other social affiliation, as well as the rehabilitation of Nazism, committed by a group of persons”.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, “acting as members of the above-mentioned union, from 2018 to the present in the city of Hrodna and other settlements of the region, the citizens organized and held a number of illegal mass events with the involvement of minors to honor members of anti-Soviet gangs during and after the Great Patriotic War, who committed robberies, murders of civilians in Belarus, and destruction of property. Their actions pursued the goals of rehabilitation of Nazism, justification of the genocide of the Belarusian people.”
Andżelika Borys was detained on March 23, and on March 24, a judge of the Lieninski District Court of Hrodna sentenced her to 15 days of administrative detention for violating the procedure of organizing and holding mass events, namely for arranging the annual festival of arts and crafts “Hrodna Kaziuki 2021”.
On March 25, the home of another member of the Union of Poles in Belarus, journalist Andrzej Poczobut, was searched and IT equipment confiscated, including two laptops and hard drives, seven old telephones, as well as conference participant badges, Polish-language documents, including his daughter’s papers, awards and others. Books in Polish were also confiscated during the search. Poczobut himself was detained and taken to the central office of the Investigative Committee, where he was interrogated and then placed in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk.
On March 10, the authorities opened a criminal case to investigate an event held at the Romuald Traugutt Scout School in Brest, run by the Forum of Polish Local Initiatives. As part of the criminal case, the 43-year-old co-founder of the school and the director Anna Paniszewa were detained. Later, police raided the offices of the Union of Poles in Lida and Vaŭkavysk and detained Maria Tiszkowska and Irena Biernacka. It also known that the prosecutor’s offices are inspecting the syllabi of the Polish language courses and running a check of teachers and students, including minors, attending private Polish language schools.
It should be noted that these actions of the authorities are taking place against the background of anti-Polish propaganda on state TV, in which Poland is described as an aggressor, which allegedly has, among other things, territorial claims to the Republic of Belarus.
Mimicking the worst Stalinist traditions, the aggressive anti-Polish state propaganda causes serious concern, as it carries negative consequences for the citizens of the Republic of Belarus of Polish nationality and clearly does not promote the policy of good neighborhood and trust between the two historically close nations.
Of course, we must remember and speak about the difficult periods of our history, including for the purpose of interethnic reconciliation, rather than incitement to mutual hostility and suspicion, in order to prevent xenophobia and discrimination against various groups in society, including the inadmissibility of persecution of dissent. The state’s commitment to the principles of the universality of human rights, pluralism and diversity is the best form of struggle against the propaganda of the ideas of Nazism.
We are convinced that punishment for expressing an opinion on historical facts is incompatible with the obligations of State parties to respect freedom of expression enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Restrictions on freedom of opinion should not be imposed under any circumstances, while restrictions on the right to freedom of expression should not go beyond the requirements of paragraph 3 of Art. 19 and Art. 20 of the Covenant.
Evaluating this information as a whole, we conclude that the criminal prosecution of Andżelika Borys, Andrzej Poczobut, Maria Tiszkowska, Anna Paniszewa and Irena Biernacka is of apparent politically motivated nature, as it is aimed at creating the image of the enemy, both embodied by the Polish state as a whole and the Polish national minority, in particular, and therefore we will consider them as political prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, call on the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:
- immediately release Andżelika Borys, Andrzej Poczobut, Maria Tiszkowska, Anna Paniszewa and Irena Biernacka, political prisoners and representatives of the Union of Poles in Belarus, and stop the criminal prosecution against them;
- stop pressure and persecution against members of the Polish national minority;
- stop the use of Article 130 of the Criminal Code to punish for expressing opinions on historical facts, which is incompatible with the obligations of the Republic of Belarus under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Human Rights Center "Viasna”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Association of Journalists