Sunday, May 12, 2024

Belarus detains two Polish-Belarusian missionaries for “sabotage”

Two Polish-Belarusian Catholic missionaries have been detained in Belarus and are facing trial accused of “sabotage activities against the state”.

In a statement on Friday, the Polish branch of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a Catholic missionary religious congretation, announced that two of its missionaries, Andrzej Juchniewicz and Paweł Lemekh, had been detained in Belarus, where they had been serving at a sanctuary in Shumilina.

“The monks are currently awaiting trial and are in Belarusian custody,” said the statement. “According to our information, the arrest was based on alleged sabotage activities against the Belarusian state.”

The religious congregation noted that, when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Juchniewicz had “publicly expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian nation”.

Soon after, Juchniewicz became chairman of the Major Superiors, Delegates and Representatives of Men’s and Women’s Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life in Belarus, they added.

In a further interview with the Polish Press Agency (PAP), a spokesman for the congregation, Paweł Gomulak, said that both of the clergymen hold Belarusian citizenship. 

Belarus has a large ethnic Polish community, which has faced growing repression from the Belarusian authorities in recent years.

The superior general of the Rome-based OMI, Luis Ignacio Rois Alonso, also announced that the congregation was “deeply concerned about the news of the imprisonment of two of our brothers in Belarus”.

“May the Immaculate Virgin and our blessed saints lead our prayers for the swift release of our brothers,” he added.

At the time of writing, Poland’s foreign ministry has not commented on the detentions.

Last year, a leading figure in Belarus’s ethnic Polish community, Andrzej Poczobut, was sentenced to eight years in prison for “inciting hatred” and “the rehabilitation of Nazism”. 

Poland and the European Union have repeatedly appealed for his release of Poczobut, whom they see as a political prisoner.