June 23, 2012 / 5:42 PM / 7 years ago

Poland demands release of reporter held in Belarus

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (R) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin attend a signing ceremony in Minsk May 31, 2012. REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has summoned the Belarusian ambassador to demand the release of a Polish newspaper’s reporter arrested this week, warning that Minsk risked further isolation and tougher sanctions.

Andrzej Poczobut, the Belarus correspondent of Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza and a prominent Polish-Belarusian minority activist, was arrested for insulting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday, less than a year after serving jail time for similar offences.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Jerzy Pomianowski, summoned the Belarusian ambassador in Warsaw and handed in a protest note demanding Poczobut’s immediate release, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Friday.

“Pomianowski pointed out that such actions deepen the self-isolation of Belarusian authorities and further strain the relations of Belarus with the European Union, causing another wave of criticism from the international community, which as a consequence may lead to a strengthening of the existing sanctions,” the statement said.

Poczobut was being held in Grodno, his home town in western Belarus.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko tolerates little dissent and routinely locks up political opponents.

The European Union has introduced sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes against Lukashenko and some of his officials after a crack-down on public protests against the president’s re-election in December 2010.

In a move seen by analysts as an attempt to mend ties with Europe, in April Lukashenko released from prison opposition leader Andrei Sannikov, his main competitor in the last election.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo

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