U.S., Europe call on Belarus to immediately release abducted journalist

The State Department issued a statement on the arrest of Belarusian journalist Protasevich, calling on Belarus to immediately release the intercepted journalist, and the European Union will discuss further sanctions against Belarus at a two-day summit in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department issued an announcement Monday strongly condemning Belarus’ actions to arrest a Belarusian citizen or hijack a European airliner.

The U.N.-affiliated International Aviation Organization said the forced landing of the plane by Belarus violated the Chicago Convention on international aviation regulations.

An eyewitness on the plane told AFP that it was clear that Protasevich was so scared that he told the passengers he would likely face a death sentence.

The two-day EU Council summit on May 24 will discuss further sanctions against Belarus, whose previous sanctions against President Lukashenko have brought it closer to Moscow, and EU member states, including France and Germany, have strongly condemned the use of military aircraft to hijack a civilian aircraft, an act that Poland has described as an international terrorist incident. Poland has described the act as an international terrorist incident. NATO has called for a thorough investigation into the overall process of the hijacking. Latvia and Lithuania, which granted Protacevic asylum, called on international flights not to fly over Belarus.

Belarusian media quoted Minsk airport sources as saying that the bomb warning was the reason for the forced landing of the Belarusian military plane, ordered by President Lukashenko himself, and that it turned out to be a false alarm after a rigorous investigation. Lithuanian airports told AFP they received the same information from Minsk airport.

The mass demonstrations and protests that erupted in Belarus in the summer of 2020 over unfair presidential elections hit a low point after four deaths and hundreds of arrests, with Belarusian authorities arresting a large number of people involved in the protests as well as media journalists.

Protasevich, 26, is one of the founders of NEXTA, a popular Belarusian opposition social media ‘wire’ channel that has become the country’s leading source of political information, with extensive coverage of anti-government protests and crackdowns by authorities, and last November he and another of the channel’s founders were placed on the KGB equivalent of the Belarusian Security Service’s He and another of the channel’s creators were placed on the list of those involved in terrorist activities by the KGB equivalent of the Belarusian Security Service last November. He was charged by the authorities with “organizing mass disorder, disturbing public order and inciting social hatred.

In addition to the Belarusian issue, the two-day EU summit will also discuss the new crown epidemic and the new round of migration in the EU, especially in Spain.