Polish prosecutors have launched an investigation into desertion against a Polish soldier who last week crossed into Belarus, where he claimed asylum and declared himself an opponent of the Polish government’s policies.
A day after his disappearance, the soldier appeared on Belarusian state TV, where he accused Polish soldiers of killing migrants and volunteers at the border.
His claims are unsupported by any evidence and fit closely with Belarusian propaganda against Poland during the ongoing border crisis. The Polish defence ministry has also revealed that the soldier had legal problems before his escape to Belarus.
Emil Czeczko: “No, I will not wear this flag because I read what #Poland said about me. No, I won’t stick this flag, now I can only flush it down to the toilet. Can I go to the toilet?” pic.twitter.com/416v4CRAR8
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) December 17, 2021
On Saturday, prosecutors in Białystok announced that an investigation against the soldier – who can now only be named as Emil Cz. under Polish privacy law – had been opened, reports RMF24.
They now intend to locate him in order to bring charges, said spokeswoman Aleksandra Skrzyniarz, If convicted of desertion, the soldier could face up to ten years in prison.
Shortly after his disappearance last week, the defence minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, revealed that Emil Cz. had already been facing “serious legal problems” and had handed in his notice to leave the army.
On Friday, a spokesman for the military police confirmed to Gazeta Wyborcza that the soldier was in September convicted of abusing a family member (reportedly his mother) and earlier this month was arrested for drink driving.
He had reportedly received a six-month prison sentence in the former case but had appealed against it and his next hearing was due to take place later this month, notes Fakt.
“He should never have been sent to serve on the border,” said Błaszczak, who has removed three of the soldier’s commanders from their posts.
There have not been reports of any volunteers going missing at Poland’s border with Belarus
— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) December 17, 2021
The day after his disappearance, Emil Cz. appeared in an interview on Belarusian state television, dressed in a military-like uniform with a Polish flag (that at one stage he tore off).
During the interview, the soldier claimed to have witnessed Polish forces “shooting [volunteers] in the head” near the border and killing numerous migrants, whose “bodies are buried in the ground or torn apart by wolves”.
Those claims conform closely to Belarusian propaganda, which has sought to portray Poland as treating those who cross the border from Belarus brutally.
The Belarusian KGB used fake social media accounts to fuel the crisis on its border with Poland, says @Meta (formerly known as Facebook)
The profiles, which posed as journalists and activists, accused Poland of abusing migrants trying to cross into the EU https://t.co/Nztim4XZXa
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 2, 2021
There have been no reports of any volunteers going missing at the border. While some migrants and refugees crossing the border have died during worsening weather conditions, there is no evidence of any deaths being caused directly by Polish authorities nor of mass deaths.
According to accounts from border crossers, Belarusian officers have often treated migrants brutally. In one case, a Syrian man drowned at the border after Belarusian guards reportedly forced him and a colleague into a river, despite them not being able to swim.
Agnieszka Wądołowska is managing editor of Notes from Poland. She has previously worked for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysokie Obcasy, Duży Format, Midrasz and Kultura Liberalna