Andrzej Poczobut (center) attends a court hearing last month.
MINSK -- A court in Minsk has sentenced a leader of the Polish-Belarusian community, noted journalist Andrzej Poczobut, to eight years in prison for criticizing Belarus's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and his regime.
The Hrodna regional court in the country's west sentenced the 49-year-old activist and journalist on February 8 on charges of public calls for actions directed at harming the country's national security, distributing materials containing such calls, and inciting hatred.
The trial was held behind closed doors. Poczobut, who is a correspondent for the respected Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, was arrested in March 2021 amid rising tensions between Minsk and Warsaw following the brutal suppression of mass protests against Lukashenka after he claimed a landslide victory in a 2020 presidential election. The Belarusian opposition claimed the election was rigged in favor of Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994. Relations between Poland and Belarus worsened further after a migrant crisis on their shared border at the end of 2021, which Warsaw blamed on Minsk, and after Lukashenka allowed Moscow to use its territory as a launching pad for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The European Union, the United States, and other countries have imposed sanctions against Lukashenka's regime following the crackdown on protesters. The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) rights group has included Poczobut on its list of 1,440 political prisoners in Belarus, and Poland has demanded his release. Poland, along with most of Europe and many other countries around the world, has criticized Lukashenka, and has provided sanctuary for Belarusian opposition leaders and activists.