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#FreeRomanProtasevich: EU calls for release of Belarus journalist

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Join the call for the release of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, who are being held by Belarus authorities. Find out how you can help. Belarus journalist Protasevich and his girlfriend Sapega were on a flight from Athens to Vilnius on 23 May when the Belarusian government forced the plane to redirect to Minsk where they were detained. Society

The move was immediately met with widespread condemnation from all around the world and led to calls for sanctions against the country.

Parliament President David Sassoli said: “The events in Belarus, with the hijacking of a civil plane to arrest opponents of the regime, require a leap forward in our response in both strength and speed.”

Parliament and other EU institutions are calling for the immediate release of Protasevich and urge everyone to speak up about this blatant breach of fundamental rights.

What you could do to help get Roman Protasevich released

The abuse of human rights can only thrive in silence. Help create a noise by speaking up for Protasevic and Sapega who are currently being silenced and detained.

What you could do online:

  • Use the hashtag #FreeRomanProtasevich and #FreeSofiaSapega on Twitter and other platforms
  • Help us to spread the message by sharing this article and our posts on social media, such as our tweet

You could come up with your own ways to protest. For example, President Sassoli suggested using airports to highlight the cause: “I think it would be a very positive gesture if a photo of Roman Protasevich were to be displayed in the main airports of European Union member states, as a mark of solidarity and to show that we will not fail him.”

What the EU is doing in response to the actions by Belarus

EU leaders met a day after the forced redirection of the Ryanair flight to decide on a common response. President Sassoli opened the summit with a call for action: “Our response must be strong, immediate and unified. The European Union must act without hesitation and punish those responsible. Tonight you have a great responsibility to show that the Union is not a paper tiger.”

EU leaders agreed to ban Belarusian planes from flying in EU airspaces or using EU airports. They also called for the release of Protasevich and Sapega as well as an investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization. They also agreed targeted economic sanctions and to add to the list of people subject to sanctions.

What the European Parliament has called for regarding Belarus

Parliament’s foreign affairs committee discussed the events in Belarus on 26 May with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She told MEPs: "I call on the European Parliament to ensure that the reaction of the international community is not limited to the Ryanair flight incident. The response must address the situation in Belarus in its entirety."

Parliament has regularly called for fair elections in Belarus as well as for respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Last year alone, MEPs called for:

In 2020, MEPs awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition in Belarus.

Read more about the EU’s links with other countries

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Belarus

Belarus opposition leader wants international tribunal to probe Lukashenko

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Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks at Czech Senate in Prague, Czech Republic, June 9, 2021. Roman Vondrous/Pool via REUTERS
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks at Czech Senate in Prague, Czech Republic, June 9, 2021. Roman Vondrous/Pool via Reuters

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (pictured) called on Wednesday (9 June) for an international tribunal to be set up to investigate what she called the “crimes” of President Alexander Lukashenko’s “dictatorship”, Reuters.

Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus since rising to power in 1994, and has cracked down on street protests that began last year over a presidential election which his opponents say was rigged so that he could retain power.

Lukashenko, who denies electoral fraud and dismisses criticism of his human rights record, extended the crackdown on Tuesday by signing legislation on tougher punishment, including prison sentences, for people who take part in protests or insult state officials. Read more

"I call for an international tribunal to be set up which would investigate the crimes of Lukashenko's dictatorship in the past and during the election in 2020," Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, told the Czech Senate.

Tsikhanouskaya, who met Czech President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babis during her visit to the Czech Republic, gave no other details of her proposal.

She said the only solution to the situation in Belarus was holding free elections with international monitors.

Tsikhanouskaya was visiting Prague before a summit of the Group of Seven advanced economies in Britain this week at which Belarus is expected to be discussed.

The former Soviet republic outraged Western countries last month by ordering a Ryanair flight to land in the capital Minsk and arresting a dissident journalist who was on board.

Lukashenko has dismissed Western criticism over the incident, and accused Western countries of waging a "hybrid war" against him. The United States and the European Union are preparing to tighten sanctions on Belarus over the plane incident. Read more

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Belarus

Belarus’s Tsikhanouskaya calls on EU, UK, US to jointly pressure Lukashenko

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The United States, Britain and the European Union should act jointly to put more pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his government, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (pictured) told Reuters on Friday (4 June), writes Joanna Plucinska.

Tsikhanouskaya made the comments during a visit to Warsaw, Poland ahead of a summit of the G7 rich countries in Britain next week, at which she hopes issues raised by the Belarusian opposition will be addressed. Belarus has shot up the international agenda since it forced down a Ryanair flight over its air space and arrested an opposition journalist last month.

"Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on [the] UK, the USA, the European Union and Ukraine. They have to act jointly so their voice will be more loud," Tsikhanouskaya said.

France has said it would like to invite the Belarusian opposition to the G7 summit, if host country Britain agrees. Britain has said there are no plans to invite further delegations, but that Belarus would be discussed.

Tsikhanouskaya said she had not been invited to the summit but expected Belarus would be discussed there.

Britain, the United States and the European Union all imposed bans and asset freezes on some Belarus officials after an election last year that the opposition says was rigged.

Since the Ryanair incident, Western countries have discouraged their airlines from flying over Belarus and said they will take other steps, such as barring Belarusian airlines and adding more names to their blacklists.

Some opposition figures have called for stronger measures that would have an impact on the overall Belarusian economy, such as restrictions on imports of minerals or oil from Belarus.

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Aviation/airlines

EU bans Belarusian carriers from its airspace and airports

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The Council today (4 June) decided to strengthen the existing restrictive measures in relation to Belarus by introducing a ban on the overflight of EU airspace and on access to EU airports by Belarusian carriers of all kinds.

EU member states will deny Belarusian air carriers (and marketing carriers who have a codeshare with a Belarusian carrier) permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories.

Today’s decision follows up on the European Council conclusions of 24 and 25 May 2021, in which EU heads of state and government strongly condemned the unlawful forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 endangering aviation safety.

The downing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk was carried out with the express intent of detaining journalist Raman Pratasevich who has been critical of Lukashenko’s regime and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The Council is also assessing possible additional listings of persons and entities on the basis of the relevant sanctions framework, and further targeted economic sanctions.

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