President Joe Biden has condemned Belarus for forcing a civilian airliner transiting the country’s airspace to divert and land in its capital city, where a journalist was taken off the flight and into custody. In a statement issued on Monday evening, Mr. Biden called it an “outrageous” affront to international norms and joined other nations in calling for the immediate release of blogger Raman Pratasevich.
Mr. Biden called for an international investigation and backed the European Union’sand other measures” against Belarus in response. He said his administration would “develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations.”
Pratasevich disappeared into custody after he was pulled off the plane in Minsk on Sunday, but 24 hours later he reappeared in a video apparently filmed by Belarusian police and released on a government social media channel.
“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and confess to organizing mass protests in Minsk,” he says in the video.
CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that Pratasevich was a key figure in the huge, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets last year.
But family and friends say the video-taped confession posted online Monday was forced, and they note a visible bruise on his forehead.
European leaders were quick to react to the fake bomb scare that Belarusian officials used to divert the Ryanair plane to Minsk to enable security services to arrest Pratasevich.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Belarus of using its “control over its airspace in order to perpetrate a state hijacking.”
European governments have not only told airlines to avoid Belarusian air space, they’ve also said they’ll close their airports to flights from the country, and sanction figures accused of involvement in the “hijacking.”
Thousands of young Belarusians, including Pratasevich, fled their country for safety after police in the country attacked and arrested hundreds of anti-Lukashenko protesters last year.
Franak Viacorka was another one of them, and Palmer asked him whether the Belarusian government’s dramatic actions over the weekend had increased the level of fear for Lukashenko’s opponents.
“I am afraid for my life, I am scared about my friends, colleagues… now no one can feel safe,” Viacorka told CBS News. “Even if you’re travelling abroad, we know that we might be followed.”
And they don’t know what President Lukashenko — brazen enough to force down a civilian jet to seize a political dissident — might do for an encore.