Justin Bullock, FISM News
Belarussian journalist, Roman Protasevich, was dramatically taken from an airplane and into custody by the Belarus government on Sunday. Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been called Europe’s last dictator, ordered that a commercial Ryanair airplane be grounded in the middle of its flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania. Lukashenko’s regime initially reported that the plane was grounded due to a bomb threat from Hamas but this was later shown to be a lie. Rather, this was done as a way to imprison Protasevich due to his dissent of the Lukashenko regime. This action has resulted in immediate condemnation from both the United States and the European Union (EU).
President Biden gave a sharp critical statement on Monday,
For months, the Belarusian people have made their voices heard, demanding democracy, respect for human rights and the preservation of fundamental freedoms… The United States will continue to stand with the people of Belarus in their struggle.
Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, reiterated the Biden administration’s condemnation of Lukashenko on Twitter,
We strongly condemn the Lukashenka regime's brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight and arrest a journalist. We demand an international investigation and are coordinating with our partners on next steps. The United States stands with the people of Belarus.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 23, 2021
And Poland Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has called for immediate economic sanctions against Belarus,
I have asked @eucopresident to expand tomorrow's #EUCO agenda and discuss immediate sanctions against A. Lukashenka regime. Hijacking of a civilian plane is an unprecedented act of state terrorism. It cannot go unpunished.
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) May 23, 2021
The EU is currently finalizing further sanctions against Belarus, but as of Monday, the EU has asked all commercial airlines not to fly into Belarus or even over the country as Belarus receives payment from airlines in order to use Belarussian airspace. Leaders around the globe have condemned this action as state sanctioned terrorism and and a violation of basic human rights by imprisoning a member of the press under false pretenses.
Also on Monday, the Belarussian government released a video clip of Mr. Protasevich. It can be seen here,
The regime's propaganda channels posted a video of arrested Raman Pratasevich, saying that he is treated lawfully in the Minsk Detention Center №1. This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners. pic.twitter.com/zdolsbp6m5
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) May 24, 2021
President Biden, other world leaders, Belarussian opposition officials, and Mr. Protasevich’s family have expressed concerns that the video statement looks to be the product of coercion and fear the possibility of torture. They have all called for the immediate release of Mr. Protasevich.
Roman Protasevich has long been a critic of Lukashenko and his government and has called for reform and free, fair, and democratic elections. He has been exiled from Belarus since 2019 due to his criticism of Lukashenko, primarily through his media company Nexta. As for Lukashenko, this is not the first time he has cracked down on critics of his government both in the media or elsewhere. In addition, Lukashenko has an established a partnership with Vladimir Putin presenting an extra wrinkle in the situation.