As I wrote last week, Lithuania had disgraced itself by providing financial information to Belarus that led to the arrest of human rights activist Ales Bialatski.
Poland would be a natural choice as a new venue for activities (and bank accounts), I wrote, except for the extra costs (it’s more expensive and farther to travel there). And now, it turns out, there is another major reason to think twice about Poland: the country did something very similar to the Lithuanians.
Apparently disregarding warnings from the Polish foreign ministry, the Polish prosecutor general’s office also passed along bank information to Minsk in June on Bialatski, information that evidently also figured in his arrest.
Once the news came out at the end of last week, the reactions in Poland were quick. Both Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski condemned the prosecutor general’s office, and two officials evidently involved in the disclosure were fired a few days ago. “I apologize on behalf on the Republic of Poland,” Sikorski wrote on his Twitter account. “A reprehensible mistake despite the Foreign Ministry’s warnings. We will redouble efforts to support democracy in Belarus.” In a statement, the Polish Foreign Ministry said that Belarus had taken advantage of international counter-terror procedures “in order to use them for repressive action against the country’s own citizens”.
The Belarusian activist community seemed even more upset this time. Uladzimir Labokovich from Bialatski’s Viasna Human Rights Center told RFE/RL that Poland’s move was “betrayal and complicity in the political repression in Belarus.”
“It completely devalues all statements about commitment to democracy and the fundamental positions of some Polish politicians on the Belarusian regime,” Labokovich said.
An activist that I spoke to said this was even sadder than the Lithuania case because Poland had handed over the information to Belarus AFTER the tax police had already warned Bialatski and Viasna people had already apparently warned the Polish Embassy about a possible inquiry. “It’s a mess and those are lousy excuses that the prosecutor office doesn’t listen to the ministry of foreign affairs.”