Belarus President Condemns Sanctions, Defends Detention Journalist On Plane
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Belarus’ authoritarian president has condemned Western nations for imposing sanctions after he ordered a Ryanair flight to land in his country where an opposition journalist was detained.
Alexander Lukashenko accused European Union leaders of “strangling” Belarus and waging “hybrid warfare.”
He also accused 26-year-old journalist Raman Pratasevich, detained after the flight landed in Minsk, the capital, of fomenting a “bloody rebellion.”
In a long, rambling speech to lawmakers and top officials, Lukashenko called it an “absolute lie” that a fighter jet he scrambled forced the plane to land.
He defended his decision to tell the Ryanair passenger plane to land after an alleged bomb threat by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
But timestamps reportedly show that the email was sent 24 minutes after Belarusian authorities told the pilot and crew that they were transporting an explosive device and passengers.
HAMAS EMAIL DENIED
“Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is the Greatest”) runs the subject line of the email, the sender of which was email@example.com. The email was published by The Daily Beast news publication in collaboration with the investigative Dossier Center.
“We, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its support for Israel in this war,” the email says. “We know that the participants of [sic] Delphi Economic Forum are returning home on May 23 via flight FR4978. A bomb has been planted onto this aircraft. If you don’t meet our demands, the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius.”
Investigative journalists noted two issues with the mail: Firstly, it was sent after the mid-air bomb theatrics unfolded. In addition, the demanded to cease-fire mentioned in the mail already took effect Friday, two days before the communique was sent out.
Hamas also denied that it had made the threat.
However, Lukashenko claimed Wednesday there was a grave security risk. He said the plane was not far away from his country’s Astravets nuclear power plant and that he ordered air defense systems to high alert.
“I acted lawfully, protecting people in line with international rules,” said the 66-year-old Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century, relentlessly stifling dissent.
ANGRY AT EU
He fumed at the EU, accusing the West of waging what he said was “no longer just an information war but a modern hybrid war” against his country of 9.3 million. But European Union leaders have denounced the move as an act of air piracy. Ryanair said its crew was instructed to land.
The plane was searched on the ground, and no bomb was found. However, Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were forced to leave the aircraft. They both now face criminal charges. Videos of the pair have been released, appearing to show them confessing to “crimes.”
However, family members and activists say it is likely they were both speaking under duress. They have also expressed concern that the journalist may face torture and up to 15 years imprisonment for allegedly galvanizing unauthorized protests against the president.
The journalist was involved in the social media channel Nexta and its sister channel, Nexta Live, which has close to 2 million subscribers. Protasevich also has many followers through his online blog publication.
In response to his detention and the plane’s diversion, the EU has already announced sanctions. The 27-nation bloc banned all Belarusian aircraft flying over EU airspace. Besides, EU airlines were urged to avoid Belarusian airspace.
EU leaders are also considering banning the Belarus national carrier, Belavia, from landing at EU airports. Belavia currently flies to 26 EU destinations, including Paris, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Rome, Stockholm, and Warsaw.
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