US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the actions of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko Sunday in detaining opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.
Lukashenko’s security forces allegedly reported a false bomb threat on a Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. The flight was forced to redirect outside of EU airspace to Minsk, where Belarusian security forces arrested Protasevich. According to the BBC, Protasevich’s girlfriend Seofia Sapega was also arrested. Sapega is a Russian citizen studying in Lithuania.
Blinken demanded Protasevich’s immediate release and stated:
Independent media are an essential pillar supporting the rule of law and a vital component of a democratic society. The United States once again condemns the Lukashenka regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists. We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, and prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In a statement, Ryanair said they were told to redirect by Belarusian air traffic control and “apologize sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay, which was outside Ryanair’s control.”
Blinken assured that the US supports a full investigation into the arrest and will respond with the support of the EU, Lithuanian, and Greek officials and the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Blinken’s State Department and the UN Human Rights Council have previously expressed concern over Lukashenko’s human rights abuses.