President Joe Biden condemns the arrest of a dissident journalist in Belarus
President Joe Biden slammed the arrest of a dissident journalist by the Belarusian government on Monday for rerouting a commercial flight over its airspace for an emergency landing in Minsk.
“The forced diversion of a Ryanair commercial flight through Belarus, which operates between two European Union member states, and the subsequent removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist traveling abroad, is a direct violation of international norms,” said Biden in a statement.
He added: “The United States strongly condemns both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Pratasevich.”
The statement added Biden to the growing international chorus expressing outrage at the actions of the Belarusian government, with European Union sanctions and growing isolation for authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Ryanair flight with journalist Raman Pratasevich and 122 other passengers was 6 miles from the Lithuanian border on Sunday when it was threatened with a bomb. Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter plane to accompany the return flight to Belarus, according to the president’s press service. Pratasevich was arrested at the airport, according to the Belarusian Interior Ministry.
Pratasevich, 26, is charged with a 15-year prison sentence for openly opposing Lukashenko.
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In a statement, Ryanair said Belarusian air traffic control had ordered the plane to return to the capital, Minsk. The aircraft was released for service after landing for seven hours. No bombs were found.
Months of protests followed an election last August in which Lukashenko received his sixth term. Police arrested around 30,000 demonstrators, many of whom were beaten. Pratasevich’s arrest follows the detention of 11 employees on a Belarusian news website.
The incident has generated sharp criticism around the world. European Council President Charles Michel called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to open an investigation and on Monday the European Union banned Belarusian airlines from using their airspace and airports.
Contributor: The Associated Press