Polish reporter detained again in Belarus, EU says

Brussels - A Polish newspaper reporter who ran afoul of Belarusian authorities during anti-government protests last year has been detained again while on his way to visit the European Union delegation in Minsk, the EU's foreign policy chief said Sunday.

'This is yet another example of ongoing human rights violations conducted by the authorities in Belarus,' Catherine Ashton's office said in a statement.

'The EU calls upon the Belarusian authorities to end at once the prosecution of independent journalists for slander or other politically motivated charges,' it added.

A Belarusian court had in January ordered Andrzej Poczobut, a Belarusian national who works for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, to pay a 580-dollar fine after he was accused of helping people travel to Minsk to take part in the anti-government protests.

Poczobut had been jailed for almost a month before the ruling.

More than 20,000 people had in December demonstrated against the rule of authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko.

The long-time leader cracked down on opponents in the wake of the protests, targeting not just political enemies, but also journalists, students, ethnic Poles and relatives of opposition activists. Poczobut is a prominent member of Belarus' Polish community.

Opposition leaders and civil society representatives arrested during the December protests have been handed down long sentences. There have also been reports of torture against detained dissidents.

'The EU strongly condemns all ... violations of the fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media,' Ashton's office said.

The situation in Belarus is due to be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday. Some member states are pushing for further sanctions against Lukashenko.

The ministers had last month decided to place another 19 Belarusian officials under a travel ban and asset freeze that already applies to Lukashenko and more than 100 associates.


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