Statement on detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich by Belarusian regime
On 23 May 2021, the Belarusian authorities ordered to land Ryanair’s passenger plane en route from Athens to Vilnius in Minsk under the pretext of a “bomb threat” report. Alexander Lukashenka’s regime ordered a jet fighter to escort the civilian plane to Minsk, jeopardising the safety of passengers, though it was already closer to Vilnius.
Journalist Raman Pratasevich, the founder of NEXTA opposition Telegram channel, the editor-in-chief of the Belarus of the Brain Telegram channel, was onboard. Before departure, Pratasevich informed his colleagues about the suspicious interest took in him by unknown persons at the Athens airport. He was detained at the Minsk airport. He could now face torture and long-term imprisonment in Belarus on trumped-up charges, and possibly even the death penalty. Pratasevich’s girlfriend Sofia Sapega was also detained.
This is an unprecedented case in the history of civil aviation, when the Belarusian dictator dared to hijack an aircraft overflying the country to persecute critics of the regime under a fake pretext.
Reprisals, pain and suffering inflicted by self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenka on his own people have spilled over the country’s boundaries. The actions by the Belarusian dictator and his regime to hijack a foreign passenger aircraft to kidnap an opponent fall within the definition of an “act of terrorism”. For 27 years of his rule, Lukashenka himself has not only trampled on the Constitution of Belarus, destroyed human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, but now also poses a threat to international civil aviation and security.
We, the representatives of Ukrainian NGOs, support the initiative by President of Ukraine and decision of the Government to terminate scheduled flights between Ukraine and Belarus and close the airspace of Belarus for flights to and from Ukraine. We also urge all democracies in the world to suspend flights to Belarus and overfly its territory until Raman Pratasevich and over 400 other political prisoners are released.
However, the collapse of the Lukashenka regime requires another step, namely tough economic sanctions and depletion of the regime’s financial cushion.
We call on the Government of Ukraine and local self-government bodies to stop purchasing electricity, oil products, industrial chemicals, and automotive products from Belarus.
We demand that the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine should impose sectoral economic sanctions on Belarus and personal sanctions on Belarusian companies and their owners under EU sanctions, as well as on Belarusian oligarchs who sponsor the Lukashenka regime (including Aliaksei Aleksin and Mikalai Varabei).
In addition, we emphasise that the extradition or expulsion of anyone to the Republic of Belarus is unacceptable in the current circumstances. Forcible extradition of anyone to an illegitimate regime, which massively violates human rights, organises terrorist acts, and imposes the death penalty, is unacceptable in legal and moral perspective.
We call on the Ukrainian authorities (in particular, the Cabinet of Ministers) to grant refugees from the Lukashenka regime the status of “temporary protection” in Ukraine as soon as possible as provided by the Law of Ukraine “On Refugees and Persons in Need of Additional or Temporary Protection”.
We stand in solidarity with the Belarusian people in their struggle against dictatorship and tyranny. We will win if we struggle!
Long live Belarus!
ZMINA Human Rights Centre
Charity Foundation “Vostok-SOS”
NGO “Liberal Democratic League of Ukraine” / Free Hong Kong Center
All-Ukrainian Association “Avtomaidan”
Anti-Corruption Action Centre
NGO “Civil Journalism Agency “MIST”
Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv
Human Rights Centre ACTION
Advocacy Advisory Panel
Transparency International Ukraine
Media Initiative Group for Human Rights
Public Interest Journalism Lab
Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center