VALOZHIN, Belarus -- A Belarusian court ruled today that the headquarters of an ethnic Polish organization must be vacated and turned over to a pro-Minsk group, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.
The decision by the court in the town of Valozhin backs a Belarusian police order that the unregistered Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB) must leave its headquarters in Ivyanets so that they can be used by the rival Union of Belarusian Poles, an organization recognized by the Belarusian government.
ZPB lawyer Alyaksandr Haliyeu said after the trial that the court ruled that Teresa Sobal, the ZPB chief in Ivyanets, must vacate what were ruled to be "illegally occupied premises."
Police visited the ZPB offices in Ivyanets last week and told the staff to vacate the building. Police took over the building the next day.
On February 15, ZPB activists Meczislaw Jaskiewicz, Andrzej Poczobut, and Ihar Bancar were jailed for five days and ZPB Chairwoman Anzhelika Borys was fined 1 million Belarusian rubles ($360) for staging an unsanctioned demonstration on February 10 protesting the seizure of the building.
Borys was not allowed to attend the trial in Valozhin today, although she had been scheduled to testify as a witness.
The ZPB -- a nonpolitical organization set up to promote Polish culture and language -- was deregistered by Belarusian authorities after it elected Borys as its chairwoman in 2005. The Union of Belarusian Poles, led by Stanislau Syamashka, was then registered to represent ethnic Poles in Belarus.
However, the Polish government recognizes the ZPB as the only legal representative of ethnic Poles in Belarus.
Polish politicians, including President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, have criticized the Belarusian government for its treatment of ZPB activists. The Polish parliament is drafting a resolution about the ZPB's plight.