Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, has come out in defense of arrested reporter Andrzej Poczobut, said Polish Radio.
In her statement, the EU foreign policy chief said that the Belarusian journalist had been arrested and convicted before and the fresh accusations against him fit the pattern of the Belarusian authorities' persecution of opposition activists and independent media. She urged Minsk to stop persecuting its political opponents and allow people to exercise their right to political and journalism activities, said Polish Radio.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that Poland was following the case and expressed regret that Warsaw once again had to put pressure on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime in connection with his opponents' arrests, Polish Radio said. He noted that the premiers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary fully supported Poland's calls for the release of imprisoned opposition and civil society activists in Belarus.
On June 22, Mr. Tusk discussed the arrest of the Belarusian journalist with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Belarusian embassy in Poland said that any attempts at putting pressure on Belarus' justice had no prospects, according to the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Mr. Poczobut, a Hrodna-based correspondent of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, was arrested at his home in the city in western Belarus on June 21 for allegedly libeling Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
“Criminal proceedings under Part Two of the Criminal Code's Article 367 against Andrzej Poczobut, a citizen of Belarus, were instituted by the Investigative Committee based on an inquiry carried out by the Hrodna regional office of the Committee for State Security,” the Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Pavel Travulka, told BelaPAN on June 22.
According to the findings of the inquiry, articles written by Mr. Poczobut and posted on the Internet "contained libelous statements concerning the head of state," Mr. Travulka said. An examination by linguists found that the articles contained "words, phrases and expressions used with regard to the president of the Republic of Belarus that are libel and discredit the Republic of Belarus," Mr. Travulka said.
Mr. Poczobut was working on an article when officers of a prosecutor's office, the Investigative Committee and the police arrived at his house at around 4 p.m. They searched the house and arrested Mr. Poczobut in the presence of his family. The man was brought first to a prosecutor's office and then to a pretrial detention center.
The 39-year-old ethnic Pole is already under a suspended prison sentence imposed on him on the same charge.
Last year he spent three months in jail and was eventually sentenced to a suspended three-year prison term with two years' probation for allegedly insulting and defaming Mr. Lukashenka in his articles.