International

Blinken condemns Belarus forcing plane carrying opposition journalist to land

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday condemned the forced landing of a Ryanair flight by Belarus and the arrest of an opposition journalist on board, calling it a “shocking act” that endangered the lives of U.S. citizens and everyone else on board.

In a statement, Blinken vowed that the U.S. would respond with its allies in the region, and called for the “immediate release” of journalist Raman Protasevich, who, according to reports, was detained by Belarusian security forces after the flight landed.

“The United States once again condemns the Lukashenka regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists. 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,” said Blinken.

The flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was ordered to divert and land in Minsk, and Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko reportedly personally deployed a fighter jet to force the plane carrying about 170 passengers to land.

Protasevich is facing charges of “inciting hatred and mass disorder” over his operation of a Telegram channel that is a popular source of opposition journalism in the country and regularly reports on abuses by the Belarusian government. He was living in Lithuania in exile. Belarus under Lukashenko, a strongman who has ruled the nation for 26 years, has curtailed much independent media since massive protests erupted over the results of the last presidential election.

Blinken’s condemnation was echoed by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who released a joint statement alongside the heads of foreign relations panels in the legislatures of numerous European governments including the U.K. and Germany.

“This reckless act put the passengers and crew in grave danger. It is a reminder of the illegitimacy of the administration claiming authority in Minsk,” read the joint statement from Menendez and other lawmakers.

“We are coordinating with our allies. This outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications,” added the U.K.’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in his own statement.

The incident also prompted calls by the U.S. and other governments for investigation by the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations’s civil aviation agency.

In a statement Sunday obtained by Reuters, the council said that it was “strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention.”

Tags Antony Blinken Belarus Bob Menendez forced landing journalists

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