Secretary of State Antony Blinken
’ decision to intercept a Ryanair
flight and detain an opposition journalist on board as a “shocking act” by the country’s leadership that endangered press freedom
and the lives of those on board.
“This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including US citizens,” Blinken said in a statement, adding that “early reports suggesting the involvement of Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military
aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require a thorough investigation
We strongly condemn the Lukashenka regime's brazen and shocking act of diverting a commercial flight and arresting a journalist, and we are coordinating next steps with our partners. The United States
stands with the people
of Belarus. — Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 23, 2021
Blinken's remarks came just hours after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
ordered a fighter jet to intercept the plane carrying Roman Protasevich
. Protasevich, 26, is a co-founder of a prominent opposition news
service who has been living in exile in Lithuania for several years after the service was declared extremist for organizing anti-government protests.
Following the country's disputed election
last year, Lukashenko has taken aggressive steps to quell dissent, including the closure of most independent media
outlets. According to Belarusian press services, the plane was diverted due to a bomb threat, but no bomb was discovered on board.
Protasevich was apprehended in Minsk shortly after the plane was diverted and now faces charges that could land him in prison for 12 years or even the death penalty
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations
agency, expressed “strong concern” about the incident and suggested that the diversion may have violated international regulations:
ICAO is deeply concerned about the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which may be a violation of the Chicago Convention, and we await official confirmation from the countries and operators involved. — ICAO (@icao) May 23, 2021
Blinken went on to say that the Biden administration
will continue to support journalists around the world.
“Independent media are an essential pillar supporting the rule of law and a vital component of a democratic society,” he said, adding that “we stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, and prosperous future, and we support their call for the regime to respect human rights
and fundamental freedoms.”