New arrests of Polish activists in Belarus

Minsk - More than one dozen ethnic Polish activists were arrested in Belarus on Monday as a government crackdown on a banned Polish organization continued. Police detained Angela Boris, leader of the banned Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB), and at least 13 other members of the group in a wave of arrests in the cities of Grodno, Volozhin and Ivyanets, said Pavel Marchiuk, a Polish embassy spokesman.

The UPB is a group supporting the interests of the ethnic Polish minority in Belarus. It receives financial support from Poland and has been banned by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The arrests were linked to the scheduled start Monday of the trial of Polish activist Teresa Sobol, Marchiuk said, according to a Belapan news agency report.

Sobol, a regional UPB leader, was set to face charges that her group illegally seized private property in the town of Ivyanets.

The case was brought by a competing ethnic Polish community group financed and supported by the Lukashenko regime. It charges that Sobol's group, using funds provided by the Polish government, illegally purchased a two-storey brick home in the town of Ivyanets in 2003 and turned the building into an organization headquarters.

Bailiffs and police evicted Sobol and other activists from the building and closed the premises on February 8. At least 20 UPB activists and supporters were reportedly arrested in raids last week.

Detainees could face up to 15 days in jail, or a fine, for participating in the activities of a banned organization.

Regional prosecutors in mid-December charged Sobol with having in 2004 received foreign funds earmarked for humanitarian support equivalent to 300 dollars, and then using the money for her own needs.

An official from the UPB called the charges baseless.

"This criminal case is false from beginning to end: There was no theft of funds (by Sobol), and even if this were true, already the statute of limitations applies in this case," said Andrei Pochobut, a UPB official.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said last week that authorities did not violate the rights of ethnic Poles living in Belarus.



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