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Statement by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee: Belarus must release Raman Pratasevich immediately

25 May 2021

On 23 May 2021, following the forcible and illegal diversion and landing in Minsk of a commercial Ryanair flight travelling between two member states of the European Union, Belarusian authorities unlawfully arrested and detained Belarusian blogger and journalist, Raman Pratasevich. These actions were committed in blatant disregard of the country’s obligations under international law, and in violation of the rights of all those on board.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee condemns the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Pratasevich.

Raman Pratasevich is being prosecuted for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of borders. This attack is yet further evidence of the profound human rights crisis ongoing in Belarus, and the unprecedented level of political repression against any and all who express dissent with regard to the political situation in the country.

This instance of extraordinary rendition of Mr. Pratasevich to Belarus was quickly followed by the signing of a new law radically restricting media activities in Belarus by Aliaksandr Lukashenka on 24 May 2021. According to the new legislation, media, among others, are prohibited from making live reports about unauthorized demonstrations and from publishing the results of opinion polls which have not been authorized by the government. Moreover, media can now also be closed by the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus without a court hearing.

Neither the criticism levied against the Belarusian authorities by Raman Pratasevich, nor his professional activities, can ever serve as sufficient grounds for restricting the legitimate exercise of his fundamental freedoms. Such an abuse of power by the Belarusian authorities must cease immediately.

We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega, who was also detained following the plane’s illegal diversion, and to drop all criminal charges against them. Both should be allowed to continue their travel to the country of their choice. We also call for the immediate release of all political prisoners and for an end to the political repression in the country.

While we welcome the strong response of the European Union to this incident, we call on the EU and all of its Member States to introduce and expand targeted and economic sanctions against those individuals and entities involved in the ongoing human rights violations in Belarus including against those who contribute to the denial of the freedom of expression, association or of the freedom of workers to self-organize, or those involved in providing funding for the state that has chosen to concentrate its efforts on extreme repressive policies.