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Kidnap of Two, Outcry from Thousands

Written by Sabal Handa

Illustrated by Jeia So

Edited by Anvita Tripathi


A RyanAir flight was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus on Sunday, the events of which were followed by the detaining of Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist who is popular for his unapologetic stance against the Belarusian government and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. Shockingly, President Alexander Lukashenko has not hesitated to take responsibility for this kidnapping. While Belarus desperately states its argument, the international community is certainly going all out, much to President Alexander’s dismay. Here with more on this intriguing development in Belarus, is Perspectoverse’s Sabal Handa.


RyanAir flight FR4978’s flight plan was to be from Athens, to Vilnius, Lithuania on Sunday, May 23rd. Passenger accounts claim that the journey was peaceful, for the most part. The plane had begun its descent to Vilnius when a sudden change of course occurred.

The Belarusian transport ministry released a transcript that is yet to be verified, and proposes that air traffic controllers warned the pilot of a bomb being on board and that it could be activated over Vilnius. The threat was claimed to be from Palestinian militant group Hamas and a senior official read out a letter that he said was from the same, although Hamas has denied any involvement. The flight was diverted to Minsk while being escorted by a fighter jet that was sent to intercept them earlier.

Upon landing, it was met by Belarusian police who arrested Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend of Russian origin, Sofia Sapega. Witnesses reported that the journalist was extremely scared and feared facing the death penalty, since Belarus is the only European country that still executes its prisoners.

Protasevich is a former editor and founder of Nexta - a social media channel that rose to prominence in the midst of protests against Belarus’ presidential election in 2020 – and had been living in exile in Lithuania. His arrest has been labeled as an example of transnational repression, with many Political Leaders, Humanitarians and Law Experts calling it an act of state-funded terrorism.

A video of him has surfaced following his detainment, where he confesses to all the crimes he has been charged with. It is suspected that Protasevich was forced to record the clip, being in a state of duress. His family, particularly his father Dmitri, has expressed concern and fear of him being tortured by the government. Sofia Sapega’s mother said that she had been imprisoned in a Minsk jail. The incident has been condemned by entities around the world, with Protasevich’s colleagues fearing for their lives as well.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has accused the journalist of planning a rebellion, along with the West of attempting to wage a “hybrid war” against him. “As we predicted, our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country change their methods of attack on the state… They have crossed many lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals,” he said, addressing the Parliament.

Western countries have chalked up Belarus’ actions to ‘hijacking' the flight, expressing their repulsion at the disregard of international law and a grotesque attempt to silence dissident citizens. RyanAir CEO Michael O’Leary believes that there were Belarusian KGB agents on board, although this is unverified. He added that the incident was mentally shocking and disturbing for some passengers. The European Union has instructed airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Meanwhile in Belarus, the human rights conditions have continued to deteriorate. Protests that began over the 2020 Presidential elections, widely believed to be rigged, have seen gross violations of human rights. Despite many officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko being on sanctions over them, the violations have continued. The country has a long history of the same; according to a 2019 report by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the United States Department Of State, in the past,“Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary arrest and detention ; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and the existence of laws regarding criminal libel and defamation of government officials; detention of journalists; severe restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement, in particular of former political prisoners whose civil rights remained largely restricted,” amongst others.

At a meeting of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet expressed her growing concern, in disapproval of ‘use of force violations’ by the security forces. It has been observed that while the participants of the protests were largely peaceful, “they were systematically, and in most cases, violently dispersed”. Methods of the same include the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannons. She shared reports of over 27,000 arrests since the start of the protests. Since October, around 2,000 complaints of torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment in custody have been filed. The penalties imposed on protestors seemed to be growing more intense. Where those arrested faced administrative charges, had to pay fines or be detained for up to 15 days, a growing number of demonstrators are now being charged under various sections of the Criminal Code.

In response, Yuri Ambrazevich, Belarus’ Permanent Representative to the UN stated that “most people were continuing with their normal lives” in the country. The UN Rights Chief urged the administration to stop the ongoing violations, as well as “take steps towards a genuine, respectful and inclusive national dialogue”.

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