Published on : Friday, May 28, 2021
Belarus isolation deepened as all the commercial planes avoided its airspace the European Union worked up new sanctions and a senior UN official said he was concerned for the welfare of an opposition journalist arrested in Minsk after his plane was diverted there apparently on the orders of the country’s longtime strongman.
After his detention, Roman Protasevich was seen in a brief video clip shown on Belarusian state television late Monday speaking rapidly to say that he was confessing to some of the charges authorities have leveled against him.
The spokesperson for the UNs human rights office Rupert Colville said Protasevichs appearance was likely not voluntary and that he seemed to have bruising to his face though it was difficult to tell from the footage.
The 26year old journalist and activist was arrested Sunday after Belarusian flight controllers told the crew of a Ryanair jetliner he was aboard that there was a bomb threat against the flight and ordered it to land. A Belarusian MiG29 fighter jet was scrambled to escort the plane in a brazen move by President Alexander Lukashenko who has ruled the country with an iron fist for over a quarter-century.
The diversion and arrest elicited widespread shock and fury and European Union leaders took unusually swift action in response at a summit Monday. They agreed to ban Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27nation bloc imposed sanctions on officials linked to Sunday flight diversion and urged the International Civil Aviation Organization to start an investigation into the episode some described as state terrorism or piracy.
They demanded Protasevichs release and urged European carriers to avoid Belarus airspace Polish carrier LOT and Baltic airlines have begun bypassing Belarus Air France KLM Finnair Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have all said they will also avoid flights over the country The UK which is no longer part of the EU also recommended that carriers don’t fly over Belarus and British Airways flights were avoiding the country.
Belarus has defended its actions and its Transport Ministry said Tuesday that it has invited representatives of the international aviation organization and US and EU authorities to investigate the flights diversion.