There has been a huge outpouring of outrage aimed at the Belarusian government for forcing down a Ryanair plane that was flying over its airspace in order to arrest a dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
The 26-year-old dissident was traveling on Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania on Sunday when shortly before touchdown the plane was diverted by Belarusian air traffic control to the capital Minsk over a supposed security alert.
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary accused Belarus of “state-sponsored piracy,” telling Ireland’s Newstalk radio Monday that he believed Belarusian KGB agents were also on the flight that was carrying 26-year-old Protasevich, who is wanted in Belarus on a variety of charges.
The European Union has issued strong statements and is calling for all manner of sanctions to be imposed on Belarus which has been ruled for 26 years by an autocrat Alexander Lukashenko. The Biden administration has also weighed in, condemning the action.
The White House on Monday condemned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after a flight heading to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus, where an opposition activist was arrested.
“We condemn the Lukashenko regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists simply for doing their job,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement read during a White House briefing.
“This was a shocking act, diverting a flight between two EU member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist,” she continued. “It constitutes a brazen affront to international freedom and peace and security by the regime. We demand an immediate, international, transparent and credible investigation of this incident.”
Psaki said the Biden administration has been in touch with partners in the region, as well as groups like NATO, the European Union and the United Nations about potential next steps.
The forcing down of a plane in order to capture someone is undoubtedly a terrible act that deserves the label of piracy and merits punishment.
But didn’t we see something even worse before back in 2013? That was when the Austrian government forced down a plane carrying the president of Bolivia Evo Morales because they thought that Edward Snowden might be on it.
Bolivia reacted with fury after a plane carrying the country’s president home from Russia was diverted to Vienna amid suspicions that it was carrying the surveillance whistleblower, Edward Snowden.
France and Portugal were accused of withdrawing permission for the plane, carrying the president, Evo Morales, from energy talks in Moscow, to pass through their airspace.
In a midnight press conference, Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia said Italy and Spain had also denied the plane permission to fly through their airspace. He described Morales as being “kidnapped by imperialism” in Europe.
“The ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorisation to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9am Wednesday they would be in contact with us again,” defence minister Ruben Saavedra said. The Spanish government had made “revision of the presidential plane” a condition of granting it passage, he said.
Saavedra, who was on the flight, said: “This is a hostile act by the United States state department which has used various European governments.”
Morales finally left Vienna at around 11.30am local time on Wednesday, after spending 12 hours at the airport.
As John Pilger writes:
The forcing down of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane – denied airspace by France, Spain and Portugal, followed by his 14-hour confinement while Austrian officials demanded to “inspect” his aircraft for the “fugitive” Edward Snowden – was an act of air piracy and state terrorism. It was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bystanders who dare not speak its name.
That act of piracy was by countries friendly to, and at the behest of, the US, when Barack Obama was president and Biden was vice-president, so for Biden to now wax indignant at Belarus is yet another example of the blatant hypocrisy and double standards that western governments apply and their media indulge by not raising the issue. When the US commits such crimes, it and its accomplices are never accused of piracy. So naturally, that disgraceful episode has been sent down the memory hole and is not even mentioned by many of the people now indignantly denouncing Belarus for this act of piracy.