Belarus: an act of state terrorism to arrest a journalist

On 23 May, the Belarusian authorities forced a civilian plane to perform an emergency landing in Minsk, Belarus' capital and arrested Belarussian blogger Raman Pratasevich. The International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) have condemned what they call "an act of air piracy and state terrorism". They demand his immediate release and those of 28 journalists and media actors currently detained in Belarus.

Screenshot video Raman Pratasevich

Raman Pratasevich, 26, is a blogger and former editor of the popular opposition Telegram channel NEXTA and editor-in-chief of Belarus of the Brain, another Telegram channel. Both have covered protests against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko's disputed election in August 2020. Pratasevich had fled Belarus in 2019, fearing prosecution and currently lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. 

Raman had worked as a journalist and photographer in Belarus and international media before starting his own Telegram channel.

The Ryanair plane, flying between Greece and Lithuania and carrying over 100 passengers, was forced to land by a Belarusian military aircraft. Authorities arrested Pratasevich together with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who was traveling with him.

In a video circulated by state TV channels on 24 May, Raman Pratasevich said he was arrested by officials of the Belarus Ministry of Internal Affairs at the national airport in Minsk. He said he was in good health and that he played a role in organizing mass protests in Minsk last year.

Some dark bruises were visible on his forehead.

EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “We call on the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE to take measures against dictator Lukashenko and those responsible for the repression of press freedom and human rights.”

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: " We are witnessing the unacceptable act of hijacking a plane with the sole purpose of arresting Raman. The video released yesterday is another illustration of how far President Lukanchenko is ready to go to take his revenge on those who have reported on protests and opposition against him. We call for the immediate release of Raman, whose only crime is to have exercised his freedom of expression. We urge strong action against the government. If there is impunity for this act it puts at risk the liberty of any journalist or blogger the government wants to label a terrorist".

In a joint statement co-signed by several press freedom groups, IFJ/EFJ affiliate the Belarussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said: "Raman Pratasevich is being persecuted by the Belarusian authorities against the backdrop of a profound human rights crisis, triggered by the launch of the presidential election last May and continuing to this day. His public activity is nothing but the peaceful exercise of the freedoms guaranteed by both the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and international human rights law (…). We consider the persecution of Raman Pratasevich to be politically motivated, as it is related to the peaceful exercise of his opinion, and the detainee is therefore a political prisoner, in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners

We call on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • immediately release Raman Pratasevich and drop the criminal charges he is facing;

  • release arbitrarily detained Sofia Sapega;

  • release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country." 

EU leaders were meeting on 24-25 May in Brussels, Belgium and strongly condemned the detention of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega and called for further sanctions.

The following journalists and media actors are detained at the moment in Belarus (updated list, here):

1.    Raman Pratasevich

2.    Katsiaryna Andreyeva

3.    Daria Chultsova

4.    Yulia Slutskaya

5.    Alla Sharko

6.    Siarhei Alsheuski

7.    Petr Slutski

8.    Ksenia Lutskina

9.    Andrei Aliaksandrau

10. Dzianis Ivashyn

11. Andrej Pachobut

12. Maryna Zolatava

13. Volha Loika

14. Liudmila Chekina

15. Alena Talkachova

16. Anzhela Asad

17. Iryna Rybalka

18. Ala Lapatka

19. Darya Danilava

20. Maria Novik

21. Aliaksandr Daineka

22. Andrei Audzeyau

23. Katsiaryna Tkachenka (lawyer, under home arrest)

24. Iryna Kastsiuchenka (lawyer, under home arrest)

25. Aliaksandr Burakou (administrative case)

26. Uladzimer Laptsevich (administrative case)

27. Liubou Kaspiarovich (administrative case)

28. Arciom Mayorau (administrative case)

29. Ales Silich (administrative case)

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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