EU, Poland urge Belarus to release Polish minority leaders

Monika Scislowska
Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – Polish President Andrzej Duda wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden Friday asking him to address deteriorating human rights and Polish minority rights in neighboring Belarus.

Duda urged a debate at the United Nations security council, where the U.S. currently holds the presidency.

On Thursday, the European Union and Poland urged the release of Polish minority leaders arrested this week in Belarus.

A criminal case has been opened against Andżelika Borys, head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, for allegedly inciting social hatred through the organization’s activity. The accusations could carry up to 12 years in prison.

Polish President and member of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, Andrzej Duda speaks to supporters following initial results in the Polish presidential election during the coronavirus pandemic on June 28, 2020 in Lowicz, Poland.

Belarus police also arrested prominent union member Andrzej Poczobut and a number of Polish teachers. Police searched Poczobut’s home and the offices of the union, which organizes gatherings dedicated to Polish history and traditions.

Belarus has been swept by protests calling for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected in August for his sixth term in an election generally seen as rigged. Borys and Poczobut were not arrested during protests.

Duda wrote to Biden that it was “necessary for the international community to undertake serious steps” to ensure human rights – including those of minorities – are protected in Belarus.

Some 300,000 ethnic Poles make up about 3.1% of Belarus’ population.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Belarusian authorities Thursday to release both “immediately and unconditionally, along with all political prisoners currently detained.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he will seek cooperation with neighboring Lithuania and Latvia to impose sanctions on Belarus, for its “repression” of the minority.

An analyst with the Center for Eastern Studies think tank, Kamil Klysinski said Friday that the approach to the Polish minority is part of the internal tensions in Belarus.

The fact that the union is an independent body, financed by Poland and not recognized by Belarusian law, has made it a target of repression, he said, and strained bilateral relations are adding to the tension.

“As a nation that has been actively calling for sanctions on Belarus after August and supporting the opposition in Belarus, Poland has become the target of propaganda and political attacks by the Belarusian authorities,’ Klysinski told The Associated Press.