Press release

Belarus: Freedom House Condemns Hijacking of Commercial Plane to Arrest Journalist

The action sets a dangerous precedent for other dictatorships.

In response to the May 23 incident in which a civilian airliner was forced to land in Minsk so that authorities could arrest a prominent journalist, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“By calling in a phony bomb threat and sending a fighter jet to force the landing of a commercial plane in order to arrest a journalist, the Lukashenka regime has shown how far it will go to exact revenge on its perceived political opponents,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “The regime, having spread its repression beyond the borders of Belarus and now into the country’s airspace, also sets a dangerous precedent for other dictatorships. We demand the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega, and call on the United States, the European Union, and the rest of the international community to take decisive action against Belarusian authorities.”

Background: 

On May 23, a Ryanair flight en route from Athens to Vilnius was passing over Belarus when Belarusian air traffic controllers notified the pilots about a possible security threat on board and directed the plane to land in Minsk. The airliner was escorted by a fighter jet personally dispatched by longtime authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, whose presidency has been disputed by the opposition since a fraudulent election in August 2020. The belongings of everyone on the flight were searched, but no explosives were found. Among the passengers were Raman Pratasevich, a prominent journalist, blogger, and former editor in chief of the popular Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, and his companion Sofia Sapega; both were detained by police. The Belarusian regime had previously included Pratasevich on a list of “terrorists” and opened several politically motivated criminal cases against him.

Belarus is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020. It is assessed as a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2021.