Written by Annika Lilja:
On May 23rd, Belarus used a fighter jet to divert a Ryanair passenger plane to land in Minsk. The plane was flying from Greece and was headed to Lithuania. They claimed there was a bomb on board. However, none were found. Now, EU leaders are demanding answers.
The police took journalist Roman Protasevich, a man sharing opinions opposite from the government’s, away when the plane landed in the Belarus capital. People involved in aviation cannot remember anything similar to this and are calling it a “Major diplomatic incident.”
“It was a state-sponsored hijack. It was state-sponsored piracy,” (Micheal O’Leary, Ryanair Chief Executive).
The Belarus leader, who is said to be, “Europe’s last dictator,” Alexander Lukashenko, began his six term in office last August.
“The nation most mired in the Soviet last with an inefficient economy, a strong man, really a dictator, in charge for over two and a half decades, Alexander Lukashenko. Yet the indomitable spirit of freedom stirred among the people of Belarus, and when a patently false election, another one, was announced on August ninth, declaring Lukashenko the winner, the people took to the streets, and they are still on the streets today, The OSCE Moscow Mechanism reported November fifth that there is overwhelming evidence that Belarus’ August ninth Presidential election’s results were falsified and that systemic human rights violations have been committed by the country’s security forces,” (Rep. Christopher H. Smith).
Svetlana Tianovskaya, the opposition leader in Belarus and the other candidate running for the Presidency, believes the election results, (80% for Lukashenko), were false and that she won. The opposition is under this belief as well and she is leading the charge behind change in Belarus.
All three women leading the change, including Tianovskaya, have all been either exiled or imprisoned. Activists rally behind them and the country is electrified with the prospect and hope for change. One of these activists is Roman Protasevich.
Protasevich has been critical of the 2020 results that kept the President of Belarus, Lukashenko, in power. Lukashenko faced the biggest challenge to his 26- year long rule as protests broke out on the streets. According to opposition leaders, about 35,000 people have been detained since the start of regular anti-government demonstrations in August of 2020.
Due to Protasevich being an activist and journalist, the plane he was on was taken down in Minsk leading to worldwide news that has drawn attention to the Belarus human rights violations.
“The judgment was unanimous. This is an attack on democracy. This is an attack on freedom of expression. And this is an attack on European sovereignty.” (Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President).
The EU also announced holding off a three billion euro package for Belarus until the country “turns democratic.” The EU is also closing air space Belarusian airlines and will deny entrance and use of EU airports. There will be additional sanctions on individuals involved in the “hijacking,” as well as business and economic entities that are financially supporting the regime.
A video showed up on a Belarusian pro-government channel with the imprisoned Protasevich. Dark marks are clearly visible on his forehead. The opposition says he was under pressure when he gave said statement, saying he was treated according to the law. This isn’t the first case of this in Belarus. In the past the government forced opposition leader Svetlana Tianovskaya to appear in a similar video when in custody. She believes he could be tortured as an enemy of Lukashenko.
The video was most likely taken under duress. He looks terrified and anxious and has marks on his forehead that might indicate being bitten. He claims to not have any health issues. He also confessed to taking part in plotting riots in Belarus which is punishable up to 15 years in prison. His partner was also taken, and is in custody, adding to this issue. As well as his parents living in exile in Poland
“He said that he is being treated lawfully, but he is clearly beaten and under pressure. There is no doubt he may be tortured,” (Svetlana Tianovskaya, opposition leader).
The German Chancellor then went on to say, “Roman Protasevich must be released immediately. All the explanations for the forced landing of the Ryanair flight are implausible. The same applies to his partner Sofia Sapega, we are demanding their release,” (Angela Merkel).
Another case of Belarus violating human rights is in the case of activist Stephan Latypov, who stabbed his own neck in a court hearing because of alleged threats from the authorities against his family on June first. He was being charged for organizing protests and resisting arrest. Before cutting himself he said that if he didn’t confess his guilt, he would be thrown in prison and those who knew him and were close with him, would be gone after. He went to the hospital and has survived.
Roman Protasevich, Svetlana Tianovskaya, Sofia Sapega and Stephan Latypov are just a few people who are having their human rights violated by the Belarusian government as a result of “Europe’s last dictator.”
I encourage you to go to the website below to look over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Try to see what articles Belarus is violating and then think about the severity. What do you believe is the biggest issue being violated in Belarus or around the world?
Things you can do to help Belarus
Check out this website dedicated to helping Belarus: https://helpbelarus.eu
They offer ways to donate, things to learn and even more.
Amnesty International - Belarus: Free Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega
"Take action now, email the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus, Andrei Shved, and demand that Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega are released immediately." Full information is on this site and is really interesting.