The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the seizure by Belarus of a journalist traveling on a plane is tantamount to extraordinary rendition - a state-sponsored abduction.
Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich was arrested after a Ryanair plane traveling from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, was diverted by a Belarusian fighter jet and forced to land in Belarus’s capital, Minsk, on Sunday. Human rights officials say they are shocked by the manner in which the journalist was detained.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner, criticized the threat of military force to divert the plane from its flight path.
“Such abuse of state power against a journalist for exercising functions that are protected under international law is receiving, and deserves, the strongest condemnation…. We fear for Raman Pratasevich’s safety and wish to seek assurances that he is treated humanely and is not subjected to ill treatment or torture,” he said.
Colville said Pratasevich’s appearance on state TV Monday evening with bruising on his face is not reassuring. He said Pratasevich’s so-called confession to serious crimes apparently was forced under torture, which is prohibited under international law.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists says it is unable to verify the time or circumstances under which the video was recorded. The CPJ has called for Pratasevich’s immediate and unconditional release.
Pratasevich is co-founder of the opposition Nexta channels, which helped mobilize street protests after Belarus’s August 9 presidential election. President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in that election, which has been widely viewed as rigged.
The Minsk government has accused Pratasevich of terrorism and provoking riots after the Nexta channels became one of the main conduits for organizing last year's anti-Lukashenko protests over alleged election fraud.
Colville said the arbitrary arrest of Pratasevich and manner of his seizure is a sign of an extremely worrying escalation in the government’s crackdown on dissenting voices.
“This astonishing episode constitutes a new phase in the Belarusian authorities’ campaign of repression against journalists and civil society in general…. In addition to the issues relating to Mr. Pratasevich, the forced landing of the passenger plane in Minsk terrorized passengers on board and exposed them to unnecessary danger, in violation of their human rights,” he said.
Colville said he was also concerned about Pratasevich’s friend, Sofia Sapaga, who reportedly also has been arbitrarily detained. His office is calling for their immediate release and says both should be allowed to continue on to Vilnius, their intended destination.