WARSAW, Poland -- Poland imposed sanctions Monday on 365 Belarusian citizens and froze the financial assets of 20 entities and 16 other people associated with 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 be barred from entering the Schengen area, an area of visa-free travel in Europe. The group includes lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, members of state media, athletes and people working for state enterprises.
The move is the latest development amid a tense 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 held power since 1994.
“These people promoted the Belarusian regime and were also involved in legitimizing and supporting the repressive policy of the authorities in Minsk. They are also responsible for the politically motivated sentence against Andrzej Poczobut, issued 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 top newspaper in Poland.
The rulings against Poczobut, a 50-year-old reporter with Poland’s liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily, is seen as part of the Belarusian government’s sweeping crackdown on opposition figures, human rights activists and independent reporters.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called Poland's move “an important gesture of solidarity with Andrzej Poczobut and all Belarusians who suffer 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 those responsible for political court verdicts will be held accountable for their actions.”
As Poland announced the sanctions, migrants were stuck at Poland's border wall with Belarus. Polish human rights activists said that they heard from the migrants that the Belarusian forces would not let them turn back. Meanwhile, Polish authorities would not allow them in to request asylum.