3 ethnic Poles from Belarus freed from prison, now in Poland

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Three members of the ethnic Polish minority in Belarus who had been imprisoned by the country’s authoritarian regime are now free and in Poland.

The three women arrived in Poland on May 25 but details of them being freed and brought out of neighboring Belarus were only made public Wednesday.

Irena Biernacka, Maria Tiszkowska and Anna Paniszewa spoke to reporters, and while they said there were details about their liberation that they were not allowed to discuss, they expressed their thanks to Poland and described conditions in Belarusian prisons as harsh.

“I would like to express my thanks to the Polish state that saved me from prison,” Paniszewa said, describing how she was beaten, subjected to psychological torture and denied medical treatment for a spine injury and a broken wrist during the two months of her detention.

She said they were “cruel days for innocent people who were brought to prison on trumped-up charges.”

Paniszewa said she had been accused of glorifying Nazism, which was for her a “cruel” and absurd charge because her family had been targeted by Nazi forces during World War II.

The three were arrested as part of a crackdown on ethnic Poles in Belarus opposed to Lukashenko.

The Foreign Ministry said that their liberation was the “result of efforts by Polish diplomatic and consular services.”

Human rights groups considered them political prisoners, and the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, had appealed for their release.

Two other Polish minority members, Andzelika Borys and Andrzej Poczobut, remain imprisoned in Belarus.

Marcin Przydacz, a deputy foreign minister, said at a news conference that Poland was fulfilling an obligation to protect Poles no matter where they live in the world, even if they are citizens of other nations.

He said that “all Poles abroad who are subjected to repression will always find support and shelter in the Republic of Poland.”

He added that Poland “expects the freeing of all political prisoners in Belarus.”

Poland, an EU member that shares a border with Belarus, is a supporter of the democratic opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko. The country, along with Lithuania, has become a key center of refuge for Belarusian activists and students in exile.

Also Wednesday, the latest in a series of demonstrations was held in Warsaw to protest Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissent.

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