Trudeau says Canada mulling more actions against Belarus after journalist's arrest

Lawrence Kim
May 26, 2021

The European Union agreed Monday to impose sanctions on Belarus, including banning its airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc, amid fury over the forced diversion of a passenger jet to arrest Pratasevich, a key foe of authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Western powers prepared to pile sanctions on Belarus and cut off its aviation links on Monday (24 May), furious after it scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair aircraft and arrest a dissident journalist, an act one leader denounced as "state piracy".

The UN rights office also demanded the immediate release of Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who was also arrested.

Together with co-founder Stepan Putilo, Protasevich until recently ran the Nexta channel on messaging app Telegram, which helped organise the protests that were the biggest challenge to Lukashenko's 26-year rule.

Lukashenko and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on opposition protests that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term in August past year. Underlining the EU's desire to show support for opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would like the Belarusian opposition to be invited to meet Group of Seven leaders at a summit in Britain next month.

Like other prominent activists, opposition journalist Roman Protasevich had been living in exile in Lithuania, considered a safe haven from Lukashenko.

Protasevich appeared in a video late on Monday (local time) where he says he is in good health and acknowledges having played a role in organising mass disturbances in Minsk a year ago.

His allies say the video was made under pressure from authorities, with Tikhanovskaya saying there was "no doubt that Roman was being tortured in prison".

Another exhausted passenger, speaking to reporters without giving her name, said Protasevich looked "super scared".

Protasevich's father Dmitry Protasevich told AFP in Poland that he had not been able to contact his son since Saturday and that he did not appear himself in the video.

"He would never speak like that".

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots that there was a bomb threat against the jetliner and ordered them to land in Minsk.

The Montreal-based ICAO has no regulatory power, and the European Union has no authority over flights taking off and landing in Belarus or flying over its airspace, apart from direct flights that originate or land in Europe.

The UN agency ICAO has said the incident may have violated the foundational treaty governing worldwide civil aviation, the 1944 Chicago Convention. Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Air France, LOT and Singapore Airlines were among carriers that announced they would stop flying over Belarus. More than 34,000 people have been arrested since August, including opposition activists, and thousands have been beaten and abused by police to try to stem the protests.

"Most leaders of Belarus' political parties have been either jailed or forced to flee the country", said Ales Bialiatski, head of the Viasna human rights centre.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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