UN demands Belarus free ‘abducted’ journalist

Belarus opposition figure Pavel Severinets flashes the V-sign from the defendant’s cage at a courthouse in the town of Mogilev, some 200km east of Minsk, on May 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
Belarus opposition figure Pavel Severinets flashes the V-sign from the defendant’s cage at a courthouse in the town of Mogilev, some 200km east of Minsk, on May 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
GENEVA — The United Nations on Tuesday demanded the immediate release of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, saying their “abduction” was an abuse of state power.اضافة اعلان

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying Protasevich, 26, and his partner Sofia Sapega.

“We call for the immediate release of both Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, both of whom should be allowed to continue to their intended destination in Lithuania,” UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

“We are shocked by the unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention,” he said.

Protasevich was a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram channel, which helped organize opposition protests against Lukashenko’s disputed reelection to a sixth term last August.

Belarusian authorities’ have long brutally cracked down on opponents and protesters, but the extraordinary diversion of an airliner to arrest a dissident onboard sparked global shock.

The plane was forcibly diverted to the Belarusian capital, “apparently under false pretenses” with the express purpose of capturing Protasevich, Colville said.

“The manner, through threat of military force, in which Protasevich was abducted from the jurisdiction of another state and brought within that of Belarus was tantamount to an extraordinary rendition.

“Such abuse of state power against a journalist for exercising functions that are protected under international law is receiving, and deserves, the strongest condemnation.”

Video ‘not reassuring’ 

Colville said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights feared for Protasevich’s safety and sought assurances that he was being treated humanely and not subjected to ill treatment or torture.

He voiced particular concern at a video showing Protasevich “confessing to having organized mass unrest” in Minsk.

“His appearance on state TV last night was not reassuring, given the apparent bruising to his face, and the strong likelihood that his appearance was not voluntary, and his ‘confession’ to serious crimes was forced,” said Colville.

He said information obtained under coercion could not be used against Protasevich in any legal proceedings, under the Convention against Torture.

Colville said the penalization of a journalist solely for being critical of the government violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

International human rights law also bars countries from criminalizing the organization of peaceful assemblies.

Passengers ‘terrorised’ 

Furthermore airplanes were under the jurisdiction of the country of registration, Coleville said.

“The fact that the plane was flying over Belarusian territory is not relevant to the state’s abilities to do what it did,” he said.

Ryanair is an Irish airline and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Monday that the plane was registered in Poland.

Colville said there were “a lot of different ways of referring to this: an abduction, extraordinary rendition, and possibly even a state-sponsored hijacking.”

The forced landing “terrorized passengers on board and exposed them to unnecessary danger, in violation of their human rights,” he added.

“This astonishing episode constitutes a new phase in the Belarusian authorities’ campaign of repression against journalists and civil society,” he said.

“This arbitrary arrest is a sign of an extremely worrying escalation in the crackdown of dissenting voices.”

Citing NGO numbers, Colville said that some 405 people were being detained on politically-motivated grounds in Belarus as of Monday.

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