2011 11/04
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Andrzej Poczobut, Harodnia

Statement by the Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Minsk, 11.04.2011

On 28 March 2011, it was reported that Hronda Regional Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings against Andrzej Poczobut, reporter of the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza weekly and leader of the opposition Union of Poles. The journalist faces charges under Par. 1 Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (“insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus”) for eight publications in Gazeta Wyborcza, one article on www.belaruspartizan.org and a post in his personal blog www.poczobut.livejournal.com.

On 29 March, the KGB attached the journalist’s property and seized his personal computer as the alleged criminal instrument.

On 6 April, Andrzej Poczobut was going to Minsk to take part in a European Commission’s event. However, he was detained on his way to Minsk for “leaving Hrodna despite a recognizance”. According to local prosecuting authorities’ spokesman, Mr. Poczobut could have impaired the investigative activities within the criminal case initiated against him. As a result, the journalist was arrested for three days. However, on 9 April, his detention was extended till 6 June.

Andrzej Poczobut has been repeatedly sentenced to administrative arrests for his professional activities, including a 15-day arrest for covering the 19 December 2010 post-election protest in Minsk. We believe that the journalist’s harassment is also linked to his activities on behalf of the unregistered Union of Poles.

Par. 1 Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (“insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus”) provides for a fine or correctional labour for up to two years, or an arrest for up to six months, or restriction of freedom for up to two years, or imprisonment for the same term.

The Human Rights Center “Viasna” expresses its protest at the criminal prosecution of Andrzej Poczobut.

We consider the attempts of brutal pressure on the independent journalist and civil activist with the use of defamation charges as politically motivated harassment. The initiation of a criminal case against the reporter of one of Poland’s major periodicals and leader of the unrecognized Polish national minority NGO is accompanied by increasing deterioration in relations between the official Minsk and Warsaw, Therefore, Andrzej Poczobut has become a hostage of the unreasoned and headstrong foreign policy of the Belarusian authorities.

Against the background of the unfair criminal trials on the 19 December 2010 events, which have irreparably ruined the reputation of the Belarusian government and are aimed at suppressing public activities of Belarusians, the prosecution of Polish minority activist and journalist Andrzej Poczobut does not give the slightest chance for Belarus to improve its relations with the democratic countries.

Apart from that, we would like to stress that Article 367 (“libel of President”), Article 368 (“insult of President”), Article 369 (“insult of authority”) and Article 369-1 (“discredit of the Republic of Belarus”), as well as the practice of their application, run counter to the provision of Apr. 1 Art. 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The use of defamation articles as a means of repressions by the state contribute to the suppression of freedom of speech.

The Human Rights Center “Viasna” calls upon the Belarusian authorities to:

- promptly put an end to the criminal prosecution of Andrzej Poczobut;

- repeal the defamation articles of the Criminal Code and bring it in accordance with the international standards on freedom of the press and freedom of expression;

provide state registration of the independent Union of Poles in Belarus.

According spring96.org

Prepared by Ales LETA,

by.prava-by.info

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