World Leaders Demand Release of Belarusian Journalist Raman Pratasevich

Democratic forces in Belarus have been protesting the brutal regime since August 2020. Photo: European Parliament
Democratic forces in Belarus have been protesting the brutal regime since August 2020. Photo: European Parliament

Amnesty says the Belarus authorities have a history of abuse towards people who show peaceful dissent.

By RMN News Service

The exiled Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were unlawfully arrested by Belarusian authorities, after their Athens to Vilnius flight was forced to land in Minsk because of a false bomb threat. Amnesty International has demanded their immediate release.

On 23 May, Raman was on a flight from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania with his partner Sofia. Raman, a vocal critic of the Belarus government, was wanted by the Belarus authorities for his work as a popular blogger and journalist who has been a prominent public figure of the widespread protests against the disputed elections, which took place in August 2020. 

But as their RyanAir flight travelled through Belarus airspace, Belarus air traffic controllers suddenly ordered the plane to land claiming that there were reports of a bomb on board. The plane was ‘accompanied’ by a Belarus fighter jet as it landed in Minsk airport. After living in exile because of concerns for his safety in Belarus, Raman found himself being forced to return.

The detention of Raman and Sofia has caused an international outcry. There is no evidence that they have committed an internationally recognised crime, yet they have been arbitrarily detained in retaliation for Raman’s critical journalistic work.

In the wake of the protests that erupted last August following the disputed presidential election, Raman was reportedly charged with inciting public disorder and social hatred by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he is deeply concerned over the apparent forced landing of a passenger aircraft over Belarus on 23 May and the subsequent detention of Belarusian journalist on board.

Mr Guterres said he remained greatly concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus in the aftermath of the elections. He urged the Belarusian authorities to fully respect all its international human rights obligations, including in relation to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

Meanwhile, many governments including the United States, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Ukraine and the European Union leaders have issued condemnation over the incident. At a summit on May 24, the EU leaders discussed to impose aviation-related sanctions against Belarus. In a statement, the European Parliament said these latest despicable actions constitute a blatant violation of international law.

Amnesty said the Belarus authorities have a history of abuse towards people who show peaceful dissent. In August 2020 during post-election protests, over 30,000 people were arbitrarily detained and there were hundreds of complaints of torture and ill treatment. Many of those detained are now being sentenced to years in prison for peacefully showing their dissent.

If convicted, Raman Pratasevich could face up to 20 years imprisonment and he is at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment. On 24 May, Raman appeared on Belarusian state television making a self-incriminating “confession” in front of a camera, injuries clearly visible on his face. 

Amnesty International says it is concerned that this “confession” may have been extracted by force, and that Sofia Sapega is detained in order to put pressure on Raman.

Amnesty has launched an online petition to send an email to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus, Andrei Shved, to demand that Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega are released immediately.

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Rakesh Raman