White House condemns Belarus for diverting plane carrying activist

The White House on Monday condemned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after a flight heading to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus, where an opposition activist was arrested. 

“We condemn the Lukashenko regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists simply for doing their job,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement read during a White House briefing.

“This was a shocking act, diverting a flight between two EU member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist,” she continued. “It constitutes a brazen affront to international freedom and peace and security by the regime. We demand an immediate, international, transparent and credible investigation of this incident.”

Psaki said the Biden administration has been in touch with partners in the region, as well as groups like NATO, the European Union and the United Nations about potential next steps.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan also raised concerns about the incident during a call with his Russian counterpart earlier Monday. Psaki did not say the administration believes the Russian government was involved in the diversion of the plane but that it would raise its concerns through multiple channels.

A Ryanair flight heading from Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, was diverted on Sunday after Belarusian air traffic control sent out a security alert, according to the airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary.

When the flight landed in Belarus, 26-year-old opposition activist and journalist Rama Pratasevich was detained. Pratasevich fled the country in 2019 and has become an influential opposition voice against Lukashenko.

The diversion of the flight, which was reportedly also carrying Belarusian agents, drew international condemnation.

The United Kingdom directed its airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace in response to the incident. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged the EU to levy additional sanctions against Lukashenko in response to the diversion.

Ryanair condemned the incident as a “state-sponsored hijacking.”

Tags Belarus European Union Jake Sullivan Jen Psaki Lithuania Russia Ryanair

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