The Biden administration joined others around the world in strongly condemning Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after a scenario that might seem like fodder for a Hollywood script.
In fact, the authoritarian ruler reportedly forced a passenger jet to be diverted to Minsk, where a journalist aboard was arrested.
“Confess to organizing mass protests”
Belarusian opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich, who has been a harsh critic of Lukashenko, originally boarded the Ryanair flight in Greece and planned to arrive in Lithuania.
The aircraft was suddenly diverted mid-flight, according to reports, with Belarusian authorities citing a supposed bomb threat. It is worth noting that no explosives were found upon a search of the jet after its arrival in Minsk.
Pratasevich appeared to immediately know the true, sinister reason for the plane’s diversion, reportedly telling another passenger that he was “facing the death penalty.”
Authorities swiftly took him into custody and, about a day later, could be seen in a video confession that has since raised concerns that it was recorded under extreme duress.
“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and confess to organizing mass protests in Minsk,” Pratasevich said in the video.
International backlash immediately erupted with the U.S. leading the way in strongly condemning the act.
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Pratasevich,” Biden’s statement affirmed. “This outrageous incident and the video Mr. Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press.”
Biden went on to call for Pratasevich to be immediately released, along with hundreds of other “political prisoners” believed to be detained by Lukashenko’s regime.
“We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, and prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” affirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his statement condemning the journalist’s arrest.
The Biden administration also backed calls from the European Union to impose financial sanctions “and other measures” against Belarus until the situation has been resolved.