Belarus upholds 8-year prison sentence for journalist of top Polish newspaper

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarus' Supreme Court on Friday upheld an eight-year prison sentence handed to a prominent member of the country’s sizable Polish minority and a correspondent for a top newspaper in Poland.

The decision is seen part of the government's sweeping, year's long crackdown on opposition figures, human rights activists and independent reporters.

The Court rejected the appeal of Andrzej Poczobut, a 50-year-old reporter with Poland's influential Gazeta Wyborcza, dismissing all defense arguments.

In February, Poczobut was found guilty of inflicting harm on Belarus' national security and “sowing discord.” The trial took place behind closed doors in the Belarusian city of Grodno. He has remained behind bars ever since his arrest in March 2021.

Poczobut had extensively covered mass protests that engulfed Belarus in 2020 in the wake of the disputed presidential election that handed authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term in office. Both the Belarusian opposition and the West have denounced the vote as rigged.

Poczobut's indictment pointed to his coverage of the protests, his statements in support of ethnic Poles in Belarus and a reference to the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland as an act of “aggression” as evidence of his guilt.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said that Poczobut’s appeal was considered behind closed doors without explanation. The journalist is currently in the Grodno prison no. 1 and will now be transferred to a penal colony.

Poland's Foreign Ministry on Friday vowed to continue calling for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. “Upholding the sentence of 8 years in prison for Andrzej Poczobut clearly shows the ill-will of the Belarusian authorities regarding representatives of the national minority in Belarus," the ministry tweeted.