The regime of President Alexander Lukashenko did not hesitate to hijack a Ryanair plane to arrest an opponent. In any case, this is what the opposition chain Nexta and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda claim.
The opponent, Roman Protassevich, 26, was indeed arrested Sunday, May 23 at the airport in Minsk, capital of Belarus, on the descent of an aircraft which had been forced to make an emergency landing. From Athens, the plane was bound for Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. The press service of the Belarusian presidency claimed on Telegram that a MiG-29 fighter plane had been sent by the army to intercept this device, on the grounds of ” bomb alert “.
A longtime opponent
Despite his young age, Roman Protassevich is a longtime opponent. In August 2012, still a minor, he was arrested and beaten by plainclothes police. He then managed two protest sites on the social network VKontakte, one of which was named ” We are tired of Lukashenko ”, which called for boycotting legislative elections. ” Young people, whose actions are inspired by the experience of the Arab Spring revolutions through the Internet, are considered the main danger by the regime ”, then explained the political analyst Alexeï Korol.
→ CONTEXT. Belarusian opposition seeks its spring
In 2020, Roman Protassevich took part in the powerful protest movement provoked by the contested re-election to the presidency of the Republic of Alexander Lukashenko, who has held this position since 1994. He was then collaborating with Nexta, a media having played a leading role in the great wave of protests. He notably hosted the Telegram channel Nexta Live, which partly coordinated the protest.
Strong reaction from Lithuania
In November 2020, the Belarusian security services (KGB) placed him on the list of “Individuals involved in terrorist activities”. This charge worries the figure of the Belarusian opposition in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa. On Twitter, she assured that Roman Protassevich “Incurs the death penalty in Belarus”.
→ MAINTENANCE. Belarus: “We need specific, rapid and concrete sanctions against the regime”
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, whose country has granted refugee status to Roman Protassevich, reacted strongly on Sunday afternoon. “I demand the emergency release of Roman Protassevich! “, he hammered, calling on NATO and the European Union (EU), of which Lithuania is a member, to “Immediately react to the threat posed by the Belarusian regime to international civil aviation”.
“I will talk about it at the EU summit in Brussels”, next week, he said. Germany quickly demanded a “Immediate explanation” after the diversion of the aircraft. A firmness also displayed by Poland, France and the European Union.
An opponent who died in prison
The protest movement had gathered during the summer and autumn of 2020 tens of thousands of people in the capital Minsk and in other cities of Belarus, a huge mobilization for a country of barely 9.5 million. inhabitants. Since then, the protest has faltered in the face of mass arrests, police violence that has left at least four people dead, ongoing judicial harassment and heavy prison sentences imposed on activists and journalists.
The death of an opponent in prison was announced by his relatives on Friday, May 21. Vitold Achourok, 50, died of a ” cardiac arrest “ in a penal colony in the east of the country. Member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front party and coordinator of the civic movement ” For freedom “, he was sentenced in January to five years in prison for “Violations of public order” and “Violence against the police” during a closed-door trial.
“People are not only suffering from the Belarusian regime but they are also dying from it”, reacted Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in Lithuania. European Union spokesperson Peter Stano asked the same day on Twitter “The immediate release of all political prisoners and persons arbitrarily detained” in the country.
Search in an independent media
As a sign that the crackdown continues, the site of the main independent media outlet, TUT.BY, was blocked last week by the authorities after a series of searches. Via its site and social networks, TUT.BY had widely covered in text and images the demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko in 2020, then the repression that followed. This medium claims up to twenty million unique daily visitors.
The Ministry of Information invoked “Multiple violations of the law on the media, in particular due to the publication of prohibited information”. The media said at least thirteen of its employees, including journalists, accountants and a computer scientist, had been arrested. In the morning, the editor-in-chief, Marina Zolotova, reported on searches of her editorial staff, her home and the homes of journalists by “Agents of the financial investigation department (DFR) of the State Control Committee”. The DFR, a powerful investigative body that has targeted the opposition in the past, said in a statement that Lioudmila Tchekina was the subject of criminal proceedings for “Tax fraud”.