Poland Apologizes for Its Part in Activist Belyatsky’s Arrest

Posted August 12th, 2011 at 11:45 am (UTC-5)
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Poland's foreign minister has publicly apologized after his country gave Belarusian investigators information that led to the detention of leading human rights activist Ales Belyatsky.

Radoslaw Sikorski said Friday Belarus had taken advantage of international procedures when it requested information about a bank account Belyatsky had in Poland. Belarus police last week arrested Belyatsky, founder of the human rights group Vyasna, on tax evasion charges.

The Polish prosecutor's office said it is starting an inquiry to find out who was responsible for giving the information to Belarus, despite instructions from Poland's Foreign Ministry to use care in handling such requests from Minsk.

The incident comes as an embarrassment for Poland, which has made supporting the pro-democracy movement in Belarus a key foreign policy priority.

Vyasna denounced the case as politically motivated, saying the charges against Belyatsky are “punishment and retribution” for his long-running work defending human rights.

The arrest has drawn mounting international criticism of the Minsk government's continued clampdown on the opposition and civil society.

Last Friday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned Belyatsky's arrest, calling it the “latest example of persecution.” In June, the OSCE issued a special report accusing Mr. Lukashenko's government of systematically using fear, harassment, torture and blackmail to clamp down on its citizens.

U.S. President Barack Obama also has criticized the repression in Belarus, saying Mr. Lukashenko has shown a total disregard for democratic values, the rule of law and his own people.

The United States last week imposed new sanctions on Belarus in response to its continued incarceration of political prisoners. The new sanctions are in addition to the travel ban imposed earlier this year on the country's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials.

The European Union also has imposed numerous sanctions against his government.