On May 23, Belarusian authorities falsely notified a commercial airplane flying through Belarusian airspace of a bomb threat, inducing its crew to land in the capital city of Minsk. The Ireland-based Ryanair airliner, with 126 passengers and six crew on board, was on its way from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania.
There was no bomb. What we do know is that upon landing, Belarusian authorities arrested Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion Sofiya Sapega. The International Civil Aviation Organization’s Council decided on May 27 to undertake an investigation into any misuse of civil aviation in the interests of ensuring the safety and security of international flight.
Mr. Pratasevich is a well-known critic of the country’s authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. He lives in exile in Lithuania.
“The United States strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich in Minsk,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a written statement. “We demand his immediate release. This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens.”
Mr. Pratasevich is an opposition blogger and activist. He is a co-founder of the Telegram channel Nexta and former editor of the news service Nexta Live, a channel with the Telegram messenger app which is capable of bypassing Belarus’s government-imposed news blackouts that restrict freedom of expression. Last year he covered the country’s flawed Presidential election, as well as the subsequent mass protests against Lukashenka’s dubious victory. For his reporting, Mr. Pratasevich was charged by Belarusian authorities with terrorism and inciting riots.
“Independent media are an essential pillar supporting the rule of law and a vital component of a democratic society,” said Secretary Blinken. “The United States once again condemns the Lukashenka regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists. We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, and prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”