Poland accuses Belarus of persecuting Polish nationals

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland accused Belarus on Wednesday of persecuting its Polish minority, calling on its government to stop “taking hostages”, after Polish and Belarusian media said the head of a group representing the Polish diaspora had been arrested.

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In a worsening diplomatic standoff following tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions this month, the Polish foreign ministry said it had summoned a Belarusian charge d’affaires for discussions on Tuesday evening but gave no further details.

Andzelika Borys, head of the Association of Poles in Belarus, was arrested in the city of Grodno on Tuesday and sentenced to 15 days in prison, Polish media said.

Belarusian media said Borys was being held on charges of violating mass gathering rules, citing the interior ministry. The Association of Poles in Belarus said it feared further “repressions” of the diaspora but would continue its work.

The Belarusian interior ministry was not available for comment and the government issued no statement on her arrest or on reports of several other Poles in Belarus being detained.

“I want to express my absolute condemnation of Andzelika Borys’ arrest...we cannot condone taking hostages in this way. That’s what you can call this sort of large scale action that the Belarusian authorities are taking,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a televised statement.

Poland has criticised the Belarusian leadership under President Alexander Lukashenko, and has hosted Belarusian opposition politicians.

Warsaw has also called for coordinated action to help the protest movement in Belarus, where Lukashenko’s opponents say a presidential election last August was rigged to hand victory to him. The president had denied electoral fraud.

The prosecutor’s office in the Belarusian city of Brest has also opened a criminal case into suspected glorification of war criminals, following a memorial evening in a Polish school in Belarus dedicated to Poles who fought against the Soviet Union.

Poland expelled two Belarusian diplomats last week after a Polish diplomat was expelled this month.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper and Alicja Ptak in Warsaw, Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Editing by Timothy Heritage, William Maclean