WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland on Monday imposed sanctions on 365 Belarusian citizens and froze the financial assets of 20 entities and 16 other people associated with the Russian capital in reaction to what it condemned as a “draconian” verdict against a journalist.
Under the sanctions announced by Poland’s interior ministry, the 365 Belarusians will not be able to enter the Schengen area, a visa-free travel zone in Europe. The group includes lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, members of the state media, athletes and people who work for state-owned companies.
The move is the latest amid a strained relationship between Poland, a member of NATO and the European Union, and Belarus, a country on its northeastern border that is allied with Russia and led by an authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has taken power. since 1994.
“These people promoted the Belarusian regime and also participated in legitimizing and supporting the repressive policy of the Minsk authorities. They are also responsible for the politically motivated sentence against Andrzej Poczobut, handed down on false charges,” the Interior Ministry said.
Belarus’ Supreme Court on Friday upheld an eight-year prison sentence against Poczobut, a prominent member of the country’s sizable Polish minority and a correspondent for a major Polish newspaper.
The sentences against Poczobut, a 50-year-old journalist for the liberal Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, are seen as part of the Belarusian government’s sweeping crackdown on opposition figures, human rights activists and independent journalists.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called Poland’s move “an important gesture of solidarity with Andrzej Poczobut and all Belarusians suffering at the hands of the regime”.
“All political prisoners must be released from prison without any conditions,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “It is also a message to all those who support the regime with their positions and actions. We hope that other countries will follow this example and that those responsible for rulings in political courts will be held accountable for their actions.”
When Poland announced the sanctions, migrants were trapped at Poland’s border wall with Belarus. Polish human rights activists said they heard from the migrants that Belarusian forces would not let them go back. Meanwhile, the Polish authorities would not allow them to apply for asylum.