The 27 member countries of the European Union agreed on Wednesday (16) to sanction 78 other people and 7 entities from Belarus, due to the interception of a Ryanair commercial flight to arrest journalist Roman Protassevich, who criticizes the dictatorship Belarusian.
Details of travel bans, financial transfers and asset freezes have yet to be released, but dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s forays this week hint at their potential impact. In addition to ignoring international pressure to free the blogger, he hosted a talk show in which Protassevich, 26, was exposed alongside the air force commander and dictatorship ministers. .
This was the journalist’s third appearance sponsored by the regime. In the first, a video was posted in which he said he was in good health, right after his arrest. The aim was to deny growing rumors that Protassevich had been hospitalized with heart problems. According to his family, the blogger’s tone of voice made it clear that he was tense, and signs on his neck and nose indicated that he had been tortured, which Lukashenko denies.
The second time, a state television channel broadcast a lengthy interview in which the blogger once again guarantees that he is treated well and praises the Belarusian dictator, while admitting that he is “guilty of to have tried to overthrow him ”. Images in this program show black marks around his wrists that could have been left by handcuffs.
In this week’s interview, the blogger – who is classified as a terrorist, accused of three crimes and being held in prison – told reporters he had not been beaten, that he felt well and that he had “recognized his mistakes” after being “warned” by the regime. . by Lukashenko. According to Belarusians who heard the interview, a journalist asked if the dictatorship had promised him freedom in exchange for collaboration. “I did not agree with the investigation. All participation in events is voluntary. As well as in the interview with state television, ”replied Protassevich.
He also said his conscience was “absolutely clear”. “I’m not cheating on anyone, I’m not cheating on anyone. I am cooperating in the investigation, I am helping my country and I intend to help even more, ”he said, before asking for consideration of his parents’ feelings:“ Mother, father, do not don’t worry, I’m fine. You can go home calmly.
In repudiation, British BBC correspondent Jonah Fischer left the room and Belarusian journalists used the microphone to express their support for the blogger and say they knew he was being forced to reproduce the regime’s speeches. .
Belarusian Air Force chief Igor Golub also repeated to reporters the version that the flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk due to a bomb threat. The plane carrying Protassevich and his girlfriend, Russian Sofia Sapega, was intercepted by a military fighter two minutes before leaving Belarusian airspace, and the couple were arrested upon landing in the Belarusian capital. No bomb was found.
According to Golub, the Ryanair pilot decided on his own to change the flight route: “Why was the captain of the plane not descending, if he intended to land? in Vilnius? Why, two minutes after crossing the border, he turned around and landed in Minsk, if no one prevented him from continuing ”.
Ryanair, however, said on Tuesday (15) that the pilot had no alternative. According to the principal executive of the airline, Michael O’Leary, the captain tried to confirm the diversion order with the company, but was misled by the Belarusians who said there were problems with the connection.
The executive also said that after the plane landed, the crew were pressured by the Belarusian regime to record a video claiming that they had voluntarily turned to Minsk, but refused.
Also this week, the Lithuanian government accused Lukashenko of transporting refugees to the EU border and helping them cross to the neighboring country. According to Lithuania, the scheme uses the Tsentrkurort company, controlled by the dictator, on the way, and the passage is done with the help of border guards.
For the Lithuanian Prime Minister, Ingrida Simonyte, Lukashenko “puts his threat to execution”. On May 26, three days after Protassevich’s arrest, he delivered a speech against European Union sanctions in which he said it was Belarus that had prevented the bloc from being “inundated with immigrants. and drugs “. “We used to pick up migrants en masse here. Now forget about it, you will catch them yourself, ”he said.
“And suddenly, within a few weeks, we see a rapid increase in the number of people entering illegally. It is not a normal flow, ”said the Prime Minister during a visit to the border. According to the Lithuanian government, 198 foreigners, of Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Turkish and Egyptian nationality, entered the country in the past 12 days. Between 2017 and 2020, the average annual entry was 90 people.
understand the penalties
The sanctions approved on Wednesday will be validated at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on the 21st and will enter into force upon publication in the Official Journal. Sectoral economic sanctions will also be proposed, in addition to the ban on Belarusian airlines from crossing its airspace and European companies from flying over Belarus.
Opponents called for restrictions on exports of potash, an input for fertilizers, and on the use of gas from Russia to the EU via pipelines through Belarus. “This time, we really have to take measures, the weight of which is felt by Lukashenko,” said the bloc’s head of international relations, Josep Borrell.
The International Civil Aviation Organization has opened an investigation into the Ryanair flight incident, which is expected to have some status later this month. But the UN agency has no supervisory or sanctioning power.
In previous rounds, 88 members of the regime, including President Alexander Lukashenko and his son, have already been the target of sanctions due to the brutal repression of demonstrators who peacefully protested for fair elections.