Polish activist appeals conviction in Belarus

Andrzej Poczobut, a Polish activist and journalist is in court in Minsk today to appeal against an earlier ruling which imposed a fine on him for public order offences after the disputed 19 December elections in Belarus.

Mr. Poczobut was one of hundreds of opposition activists arrested in connection with protests against the allegedly falsified presidential election in December.

Poczobut, a correspondent for the Gazeta Wyborcza daily and member of the Union of Poles in Belarus, claims that he was beaten by his interrogators, the security services. Although a Minsk regional court did not officially acknowledge that Poczubut was present in his capacity as a journalist, the judge ruled that he must pay a fine equivalent of 1750 zl (around 450 euros).

Poczobut claims he was given a written warning that a prison sentence would be the likely outcome should he take part in further demonstrations. He belongs to the Association of Poles, a body not recognised by Belarusian authorities.

The journalist told Polish Radio that it is difficult to foretell the reaction of the court:

"They could take the decision to place me under arrest for up to 15 days, perhaps they could acquit me or perhaps they could refer the matter to a later hearing."

Earlier this month, Poland enforced a ban on leading Belarusian statesmen from entering Poland. Likewise, EU ministers are due to to consider similar measures next week.

Amnesty appeal

Meanwhile, an Amnesty International chapter in Poland has appealed for the immediate release of Belarusian opposition activist Andrei Sannikov.

A campaign has been organized in Poznan, western Poland, to collect signatures under a petition addressed to Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka condemning the arrest and ill treatment of Sannikov, considered a prisoner of conscience.

Andrei Sannikov, leader of the 'European Belarus' civic movement and an opposition presidential candidate, was one of 700 detained by Belarusian special services when riot police cracked down on demonstrators in Minsk after the presidential elections in December. Over thirty still remain in Belarusian secret service (KGB) custody charged with conducting anti-state activity.

According to witnesses Andrei Sannikov had been brutally beaten during the arrest, reportedly having both legs broken. On Friday, he was allowed the first meeting with his legal attorney since the arrest over a month ago. (nh/pg/ss)


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