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    Journalist Andrzej Poczobut Transferred to Harsh Penal Colony in Novopolotsk, Belarus

    Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist and activist from the Polish minority in Belarus, has been relocated to a penal colony in Novopolotsk after being convicted by the Belarusian authorities. The choice of this particular colony, known for its strict conditions, has raised concerns about the well-being of Poczobut and other political prisoners held there.

    According to Barys Harecki, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAŻ), the decision to send Poczobut to Novopolotsk may be part of a political maneuver by Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Harecki suggests that the selection of the penal colony is intended to demonstrate a show of austerity and send a message to the Polish authorities with whom Poczobut’s fate is allegedly intertwined.

    The journey from Poczobut’s hometown of Grodno to Novopolotsk is a grueling one, taking at least six hours on poor roads. This poses additional difficulties for Poczobut’s family, who will have limited opportunities to visit him in the remote location.

    Belarus lacks specific rules regarding the placement of prisoners in penal colonies, allowing authorities to send individuals to any of the more than 20 available colonies. This means that prisoners can be placed far from their homes, increasing the burden on their families.

    The Novopolotsk colony has gained a reputation for its rigorous and harsh treatment of inmates. Former prisoners and their relatives have reported grim conditions, exacerbated by the colony’s proximity to two large chemical plants, which are said to create harsh environmental conditions.

    Poczobut is classified as a maximum-security prisoner, and the privileges granted to inmates in such conditions are limited. According to Belarusian legislation, prisoners facing “aggravated rigour” can spend up to 148 Belarusian roubles (approximately PLN 170-180) per month in a special shop, have two short and two long meetings per year, and receive limited parcels. However, these privileges can be further restricted by the colony’s authorities, and accounts from human rights defenders and former political prisoners suggest that punishments and restrictions are frequently applied.

    Reports from Radio Svaboda journalist Allah Hruzdzhalovich, who served his political sentence in a penal colony in Mogilev, shed light on the harsh realities of punishment cells and solitary confinement. In these conditions, prisoners are deprived of basic comforts and subjected to constant surveillance and severe restrictions on their movements.

    The number of political prisoners in Belarus has been on the rise, with various prisons housing between a few and more than a hundred individuals convicted for political reasons. Human rights organizations have recognized 1,496 people as political prisoners, although the actual number is likely higher. Many individuals are still awaiting trial.

    The situation of Poczobut and other political prisoners remains shrouded in secrecy, with little information available from official sources or lawyers. Relatives, too, are hesitant to speak out, further limiting access to accurate information about the conditions and treatment of prisoners.

    Poczobut’s wife, Oksana, learned about his transfer to Novopolotsk from a letter sent by her husband. Communication channels with prisoners are scarce, contributing to the overall lack of transparency regarding their situation.

    The eight-year sentence handed to Poczobut in a maximum-security penal colony was deemed politically motivated by human rights organizations. The authorities accused him of “inciting hatred” and engaging in activities that were allegedly supportive of Nazism. The Polish government has called for Poczobut’s release and the dismissal of the politically motivated charges.

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