In March 2021, law enforcement officers detained Belarusian journalist Andrej Poczobut, who reports on the country’s ethnic Polish minority. He was initially charged with inciting hatred and later charged with "calls for sanctions aimed at harming national security.”
Poczobut is a political commentator and producer of Nad Niemnem, a television program focused on Belarus’s Polish community for independent Poland-based broadcaster Belsat TV and Polish public broadcaster TVP Polonia. Poczobut was active on Twitter, where he commented on protests contesting the August 2020 reelection of President Aleksandr Lukashenko for his more than 15,000 followers. He has also provided commentary and analysis of the protests for regional news outlets.
On March 25, 2021, law enforcement officers arrested Poczobut in his home in the western city of Hrodna, according to U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Police also searched Poczobut’s apartment and confiscated two laptops, hard drives, seven old cellphones, and several books in Polish, according to news reports, Aksana Poczobut, the journalist’s wife, and Barys Haretski, deputy head Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group that was banned in 2021 but continues to track journalist detentions from inside Belarus.
Police took the journalist to a detention center in Minsk, where they later charged him with “incitement to racial, national, religious, or other social hostility or discord,” according to banned Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, which operates unofficially in the country. If found guilty, the journalist could face a prison sentence of up to 12 years, according to Article 130, Part 3, of the Belarusian criminal code.
The journalist’s wife called the allegations “absurd,” saying that he “had not done anything illegal.” Aksana Poczobut said her husband’s arrest might be connected to his coverage of the ethnic Polish community in Belarus and his membership in the Union of Poles in Belarus, an independent cultural organization. Two days before Poczobut’s arrest, Belarusian authorities had detained the head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Andzelika Barys, and sentenced her to 15 days in prison, according to RFE/RL.
On July 31, 2022, BAJ and media reported that the incitement charges stem, among other things, from his coverage of 2020 anti-government protests in Belarus, statements he made in defense of the Polish minority in Belarus, and his labeling of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 as an aggression.
On August 17, BAJ reported that authorities had also charged Poczobut with "calls for sanctions aimed at harming national security," under Article 361 of the criminal code, which carries a punishment of up to 12 years in jail.
On September 23, BAJ reported that Poczobut was transferred to a pretrial detention center in Hrodna, which indicates that his trial should start soon, BAJ said.
On October 4, Belarusian State Security Committee added Poczobut to a list of people involved in terrorist activities, according to Viasna and BAJ.
The journalist had been arrested before. In March 2006, when he was editor of magazine Magazyn Polski na Uchodzstwie, he was sentenced to 10 days in prison on charges of petty hooliganism in the run-up to the 2006 presidential elections.
On April 6, 2011, Belarusian authorities detained Poczobut, who was then the Hrodna-based correspondent for the largest Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, and tried him in a closed-door trial for allegedly insulting and libeling Lukashenko for articles he had written in the run-up to the December 2010 presidential election and its aftermath. A Belarusian court found him guilty on the libel charge, sentencing him to a three-year suspended prison term, while acquitting him on the insult charge, according to news reports.
Poczobut is held at Prison No. 1 in Hrodna, according to Viasna. His trial, which was supposed to start on November 28, was postponed until an unspecified date, BAJ reported on November 22.
CPJ contacted the journalist’s wife via messaging app in September 2022 and asked about her husband health status but did not receive any reply. In late 2021, she had told CPJ that he was in a cell with 15 other inmates and that he had serious heart problems. Earlier in the year, authorities refused a BAJ request to transfer Poczobut to a hospital for medical treatment because of his cardiovascular problems after he contracted COVID-19 in the detention center.
In September 2022, CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee but did not receive any replies.