Story of Andrzej (Andrei) Poczobut, a journalist from Hrodna, correspondent for Gazeta Wyborcza and an activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus, as told by his friends and colleagues.
Poczobut was offered release on condition that he would leave Belarus, but he refused. Human rights defenders recognized him as a political prisoner.
In August 2022, it became known that Poczobut is accused under new criminal article (part 3 of Art. 361): ‘calls for restrictive measures (sanctions) aimed on in inflicting harm on national security’.
On October 4, 2022 the KGB of Belarus (the Committee for State Security) put the journalist into the list of persons involved in terrorist activity.
On January 16, 2023 the trial of Andrzej Poczobut began behind closed doors in Grodno. On February 8, 2023 the political prisoner was sentenced to 8 years in a high-security colony.
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In 2011, Andrzej Poczobut has already been a political prisoner. Back then, he was accused under two articles of the Criminal Code: contempt against the President of Belarus and libel against the head of state. The journalist was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for two years, under the libel article and cleared under the contempt article. He was released in the courtroom.
I like Andrzej a lot. First of all, we come from the same region, historic Hrodna district. Certain things, such as the co-existence of Belarusians and Poles in our multi-cultural region go without saying for us. Scary stories about the Poles trying to invade will not get through.
Second, I learned about Andrzej in the 1990s, the daring and awesome 1990s when they were playing in the Deviation band (a punk rock band organized by the Poczobut brothers in 1993. – Ed.). They were local stars for a young lad, singing mainly in Belarusian which seemed elite to a certain degree, if not bohemian.
Andrzej is older than me. We started working together before Pahonia was shut down and later, when Mikola Markevich and I returned from open prison, we decided to issue the Dzień newspaper.
Ideological course of the authorities was always directed at eliminating the independent mass media in the city. It was not like we felt we were at war, but it was clear at moments how important are the circles providing alternative, independent information. Working at Dzień, we virtually lived every day at the editorial office making contacts, being busy doing things. Preparing each issue required planning the whole process step by step. That was the atmosphere we lived in.
Poczobut is a fine, grasping journalist. No coincidence he later worked for large Polish publications including Gazeta Wyborcza.
I would like for the people who restore and preserve Polish heritage in our region to be like Andrzej. And it is not some opportunistic admiration. Each and every meter of Polish presence on the Belarusian land is important to him, he studied and researched it.
One of Andrzej’s important features is his principled position, both personal and professional.
And he would always get to the bottom of things.
I think Andrzej knows, he feels there are several thousands of Poczobuts from this land behind him, so he can’t fail. He has to adhere to the truth, to his principles, to his views no matter what comes for it, no matter whether it is mainstream.
He attached his future, his activities to this land and, I’m sure, he will do the same in the future. Poczobut will try to change this world for the best, while he can.
I met Andrzej Poczobut when he came to work at Pahonia newspaper, I think. I immediately noticed that, despite his age, he was a complete, very deep and highly professional journalist.
He has education in law, but combined with the art of word and strong moral values it all yielded an excellent result. Andrzej could easily cover complex topics, dive deep in any of them.
Once he started working on a certain topic, he wouldn’t stop until completed it. He could return to it once, twice, three times or whichever number of times it required to reach the goal.
He’s a very brave, principled journalist. I remember probably one of the most serious attacks on our editorial office. It happened when Pahonia was already prohibited and we, the same team, issued Dzień newspaper. It was printed in Smolensk [Russia]. We prepared the materials and sent it to Smolensk for print, then went there to pick up the run and brought it back to Belarus.
It felt a lot like a war utilising the lowest, most brutal and harsh methods possible. We prepared the issue at night while several dozens of people were standing outside, in the dark, on guard for any threats. In the very centre of Hrodna, cars with no registration plates approached and people shouted from inside them threatening to kill all of us.
Every person would react differently for such an undisguised threat to their lives persisting for several weeks until they finally destroyed Dzień as well. Andrzej was one of those people who kept things running, who supported us all.
I remember saying many times, ‘Turn to the side, Andrzej. You look like Kastus Kalinouski to me.’ By the way he acts, by his attitude to business, by his principled position and bravery. I said it to him back then, I would confirm it now. Life itself proves it. It is very sad that people like him, patriots, professionals, principled persons who could be an example for young journalists, are imprisoned.
Journalism is very much different today from what it was 15 to 20 years ago. There are fewer journalists like Andrzej. It is also the main reason why he is in prison again.
His accusation is made out of thin air, it’s neither based on facts, nor the law. It is merely the whim of those who want to isolate the people capable of becoming a centre of gravity, a moral authority, a role model for others to learn from and follow. This is the main reason, not those insane accusations.
He is one of the best journalists. And I’m sure sooner or later, his strength, intellect and consciousness will serve the New Belarus.
Andrzej, I’m with you. We were together and we are still together. I am absolutely certain you would withstand, you must withstand and hold on, not only for yourself, but for our country, our society, our common cause, for the future of Belarus. I believe in you, Andrzej. And I know you will get through all the suffering inflicted on you, with dignity.
Words of solidarity, endless respect to this person’s principled position. I would like Andrzej to feel it, hear it even though the thick prison walls which contain him now.
When I started working as a journalist and at the BAJ Andrzej was already a star journalist in Hrodna region. When Pahonia and other Hrodna publications were shut down in the 2000s I was still a school boy and we rallied with the Malady Front (Youth Front) at the Ministry of Information.
Life brought Andrzej and me together when I already worked at the Belarusian Association of Journalists and he had been on the BAJ Ethics Commission for a long time. He was back then and still is the leader of the Polish community in Hrodna region. He is a strong figure in the Hrodna region in general; people follow him. He is well known, he has always helped in both journalistic and legal issues, he supported many of his colleagues.
Andrzej and I once happened to travel on a journalist assignment together. We shared a hotel room and talked a lot. We have been friends since then. And even though we lived in different cities, we have always been in touch.
He is a many-sided man, he is an interesting interlocutor on many topics. He knows a lot of journalist stories, stories of Hrodna, he has great life and professional experience. We know him from his Belarusian side, but he also has a Polish side. He is well known and respected in Poland, he has influence in Polish structures and organisations.
When Andrzej was imprisoned before, Poland showed supernatural support, rallies. His previous imprisonment ended because of that, and it’s ending was emblematic. First, he was released from the pre-trial detention facility and then, on the day Javier cyclone fell over Minsk, all the websites posted that the Poczobut case was closed. It was very, very good.
It is impossible to separate Poczobut the journalist from Poczobut the person. Poczobut is a strong civic, political and journalist person with an outstanding background. He knows history, politics, economy well, he can dispute any topic.
He is very generous and honest. Andrzej would never agree to any injustice, even in small things. He cannot just look away or say, ‘All right, fine.’ Andrzej is ready to deprive himself, fall short, but it is important for him that justice prevails.
Andrzej is a prominent representative of the Hrodna journalist community. Hrodna is actually a unique place for Belarusian journalism; people are very close to each other here. Until recently, when many had to leave, it was not simply friendship, it was almost family relations. You turn to one person for help and there are ten ready to respond. Hrodna community is a brilliant assemblage. It is not a big city, but it has great names, Andrzej among them.
Poczobut refused to leave Belarus. We know now he was offered the opportunity. He has been in prison since March, over six months now. I always tell everyone that if they sign any motion, it would not mean they are bad persons. It is a choice everyone has to make for themselves. Andrzej made it, he said, ‘I’m staying here.’
He is a very austere person, strict to himself. Even now, he keeps saying, ‘I don’t need anything. I will survive. I will get a minimum of things in the shop, I don’t need much.’
Andrzej received several letters from me. I know some people received response letters from him. There are problems with Andrzej’s correspondence with his family: only his wife receives letters, his children don’t.
But it is important to write letters. It is a Russian roulette, indeed, but why not try it? Especially since it’s not that hard to write. There is the Письмо.бел website; Viasna has a free of charge form which one can fill out for the volunteers to write down and send; Belpost has a mailing service. So, one can send a letter right from their computer. And even if one out five letters reaches the destination, it will be a success.
I very much look forward to meeting Andrzej. It will be a warm meeting! I will say, ‘Welcome on the outside.’ And he, most likely, will say, ‘Take it easy, I’m simply released. Everything’s fine. Let’s work.’
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