EU Sanctions Belarus Over Plane Diversion, Blogger Arrest

EU Sanctions Belarus Over Plane Diversion, Blogger Arrest

EU Sanctions Belarus Over Plane Diversion, Blogger Arrest

In unusually swift action at a summit in Brussels, EU leaders agreed Monday to ban Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc, imposed sanctions on officials linked to Sunday's flight diversion, and urged the International Civil Aviation Organization to start an investigation into the episode some described as state terrorism or piracy.

Many members of the Belarusian government are already under European Union sanctions because of last year's crackdown following the disputed August presidential election.

The EU leaders also directed officials to draw up unspecified new sanctions against Belarus, and to work out a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc's skies.

Belarus journalist Raman Pratasevich stands in an airport bus in the global airport outside Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021, in this photo released by telegram Chanel

Sofia Sapega, a 23-year-old law student at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Lithuania, was detained along with Protasevich on Sunday. Belarus is a former Soviet republic with close ties to the Russian government. He was a blogger and co-founder and editor of Nexta, a popular channel on the Telegram messaging app that was a key factor in organizing protests in Belarus after a presidential election in August 2020.

"This outrageous incident and the video Mr Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press", Mr Biden said in a statement.

In the Commons on Monday, he said: "It's very hard to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow, but, as I say, it's unclear as yet".

Irish airline Ryanair said in a statement on Sunday that its flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was notified by Belarusian authorities of "a potential security threat on board" and was "instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk".

USA national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call on Monday with exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said the United States had "strong support for the demands of the Belarusian people for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms", the White House said. Air France, KLM, Finnair, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have all said they will also avoid flights over the country. That would seem to indicate the operation had effectively been coordinated with operatives on the ground in Greece.

The president has denied electoral fraud.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called the incident "shocking" and appealed for Pratasevich's release.

In a video posted online, the detained blogger, Roman Protasevich, 26, said he was in good health, being held in a pretrial detention facility in Minsk, and acknowledged having played a role in organising mass disturbances in the capital past year.

During the months of protests that followed, more than 34,000 people were arrested in Belarus, and thousands were brutally beaten. We demand his immediate release.

The Belarusian Transport Ministry has released a transcript of a conversation between one of its air traffic controllers and a Ryanair pilot forced to land in Belarus due to what turned out to be a hoax bomb alert.

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