But even understanding what we did of the state of affairs, the motion to divert a Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight to the Belarus capital of Minsk — the place Protasevich was detained — is surprising.
Europe’s final dictator,
Aleksander Lukashenko, has lengthy been an enemy of impartial media. Final yr, he stepped up censorship after claiming victory within the contested presidential election of August 9 — a declare broadly seen as fraudulent
and which set off a wave of big protests. Protasevich was the co-founder of NEXTA, one of the crucial widespread channels on the Telegram messaging app and a number one supply of knowledge on the anti-Lukashenko protests.
In the meantime, my focus stays on making an attempt to get details about whether or not Protasevich is OK, whether or not he has a lawyer and whether or not his rights are being violated in detention. On Monday, the journalist’s mom, Nataliya Protasevich, informed CPJ that she realized from an unnamed supply that her son was taken to a hospital due to his continual coronary heart situation. (Nataliya Protasevich informed us she didn’t need to establish that particular person out of concern for his or her security.)
Later, a 29-second video
emerged on the pro-government Telegram channel Zhyoltiye Slivy exhibiting Protasevich saying that Belarusian authorities are treating him “appropriately” and “lawfully.” Protasevich, who seems to have bruises or scuff marks on his face, says within the video — headlined ‘I confess’ — that he doesn’t have any well being points and added that he’s being held within the Minsk pre-trial detention middle #1. Protasevich additionally mentioned that he’s “cooperating with investigators and proceed(s) confessing to organizing mass riots within the metropolis of Minsk.”
Belarusian authorities mentioned final November that the fees in opposition to him
included “organizing mass riots” and “group actions that grossly violate public order.” Sviatlana Tikhanouvskaya, a Belarusian opposition chief and a 2020 presidential candidate, mentioned in a tweet
that Protasevich confronted the dying penalty.
Protasevich’s detention got here quickly after the Might 18 raid and shutdown
of one other main on-line media outlet, Tut.by. and detentions of not less than 10 of its employees, together with three journalists. Its chief editor Maryna Zolatava stays in jail on what we imagine are spurious tax evasion fees and will resist 10 years in jail if discovered responsible.
On Might 19, Tut.by correspondent Katsiaryna Barysevich was launched from jail after serving six months
for reporting on protests in November — solely to be taught that her colleagues have been in jail and her media outlet was shuttered. On Might 21, Belarusian authorities raided the studios of one other distinguished media outlet — Belsat, a Poland-based satellite tv for pc broadcaster, which has additionally been reporting on anti-Lukashenko protests. Two of its journalists — reporter Katsiaryna Andreyeva and camerawoman Daria Chultsova — are serving two-year sentences
for offering stay protection of protests in November.
Earlier than his Might 23 arrest, Protasevichwas working a Telegram channel referred to as Belarus golovnogo mozga
— Belarus of the Mind — after founder Ihar Losik was arrested earlier than the August elections; he too is going through years in jail. Losik, who was additionally a marketing consultant for the US. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, survived what his spouse informed
Russia’s impartial Novaya Gazeta have been suicide makes an attempt earlier this yr and went on starvation strike making an attempt to attract consideration to his plight.
Belarusian impartial media have by no means been allowed to function freely however managed to develop regardless of the hurdles the regime created since Lukashenko got here to energy in 1994. Imprisonments
of critics and opponents will not be new ways: he used them in earlier elections, and within the months and weeks earlier than the 2020 vote by jailing the primary candidates for the presidency.
Now, Pratasevich’s life might be at risk and the survival of impartial media as an entire is at stake. Many journalists who will not be in jail fled Belarus and are looking for methods and funding to proceed journalism from overseas. These remaining in Belarus need to work below fixed strain of the state censorship machine that simply demonstrated for them that even flying over Belarus may land them in Lukashenko’s cells.
The world neighborhood should reply to Lukashenko’s single-handed elevating of the stakes on Sunday.
Governments ought to impose strictly focused sanctions in opposition to authorities officers of all ranges — from Lukashenko to jail guards identified for brutal therapy of journalist inmates, in addition to in opposition to state-owned corporations and Lukashenko cronies inside and out of doors the nation. Belarus has robust political
ties with Russia, and a few observers imagine
Russia’s FSB helped Belarus’ KGB within the operation to arrest Pratasevich. (Russian Presidential Spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov refused to touch upon the RyanAir diversion on Monday, in accordance with the Russian state company Interfax. When requested about whether or not Russian particular companies have been concerned within the operation, he mentioned
“That is the very last thing I would prefer to touch upon.”)
Offering help to in-country and exiled media retailers, journalists, press freedom and human rights organizations is the one strategy to assure we will proceed to obtain goal details about media crackdowns and human rights violations in Belarus. However firstly, world leaders should demand the fast and unconditional launch of Protasevich and all different journalists in Belarusian jails.