It was an egregious act by the Lukashenka regime in Belarus: the forced diversion on May 23rd of a commercial airline flight between two European Union member states for the apparent purpose of arresting and imprisoning Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and graduate student Sofiya Sapega.
In response, the United States, in coordination with the European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom, took action against dozens of Belarusian individuals and entities. Those in the international community working to impose costs on the Lukashenka regime have made it clear that the sanctions imposed against the Lukashenka regime are also in response to the continued violent repression of the Belarusian people. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed this in a statement on June 21, that the actions taken by the U.S. are in response "to the continuing repression in Belarus, including attacks on human rights, democratic processes, and fundamental freedoms.”
The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Belarus cites reports of severe abuses and other forms of repression against the Belarusian people by the Lukashenka regime. Among them are the unlawful or arbitrary killings by Lukashenka's security forces; torture and severe abuse in detention facilities; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; and serious acts of corruption.
On June 21, Secretary Blinken announced the U.S. Department of State took action to impose visa restrictions on 46 Belarusian officials holding key positions in the government, from the Presidential Administration to the military and the judiciary.
The Department of the Treasury designated an additional 16 individuals and five entities. These persons “have harmed the people of Belarus through their activities following the August 9, 2020 fraudulent presidential election and the subsequent brutal crackdown on protesters, journalists and the political opposition, or have otherwise supported Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s repressive policies within Belarus and abroad,” wrote Secretary Blinken.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “We continue to demand accountability from the Lukashenka regime until the repression stops…We call for an end to the crackdown, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a genuine dialogue with the opposition and civil society as called for in the OSCE Expert Mission report, and free and fair elections with international observation. We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”