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When the international response to Belarus’ bold act of pirating airplanes comes swiftly and furiously, those who know the journalists who deprived Ryanair flight Sunday are very concerned about his fate and that of the many other reporters and bloggers now in Belarusian prisons languish.
“It’s very tight for us,” Alexander Lukashuk, director of the Belarusian service for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL), told Fox News. “And a bigger thing in terms of the human dimension than hijacking an airplane, which is amazing in itself.”
US CONDEMNDS BELARUS REGIME OF ‘SHOCKING ACT’ IN ORDER TO DERIVATE THE COMMERCIAL FLIGHT
Belarus under the six-year-old President Alexander Lukashenko always had a “problem with human rights and democratic values,” said Lukaschuk. “After this kidnapping, the US, the EU and NATO must view Lukashenko as a security threat.”
Belarus sent a MiG fighter plane to force the flight from Athens (Greece) to Vilnius (Lithuania) and divert it to Minsk (the Belarusian capital). The plane was flying into Belarusian airspace when this happened.
As soon as the plane landed, police arrested Roman Protasevich, 26, a popular and daring blogger and one of the founders of the Nexta telegram channel, where many around the world received their news about Belarus and watched the protests spread across the country the controversial presidential election last August. There wasn’t a bomb on the plane.
Protasevich cut his teeth on a scholarship program with the US-funded RFE / RL. After Nexta, he jumped to another telegram channel, Belamova, to take on the role of Igor Losik, who was also arrested by the Belarusian authorities and is sentenced to 12 years in prison. Lukashuk worked with both of them.
“”[Protasevich is] A very brave young person who never thinks about his safety, very independent. Not quite a traditional journalist. He likes to be alone and play by his own rules, “recalls Lukashuk.
PUTIN TO BE AGGRESSORS: “WILL KNOCK YOUR TEETH”
After Protasevich was spotted on an official list of “terrorists” for helping organize “riots”, he fled to Poland for safety and then on to Lithuania. There was never any unrest in Belarus. The demonstrations were peaceful. Belarusians often do not point out that a shop window has been smashed when protesters took to the streets for many weeks, day after day and then Sunday after Sunday.
These continued as Lukashenko and his security services tightened the screws and imprisoned or punished opposition representatives, journalists and anyone who spotted them with sympathy for the opposition. Recently someone was fined for wearing red and white socks. Red and white are the colors of the movement for change and to get Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”, to walk. But Lukashuk from RFE / RL discovers the hand of Moscow.
“We spoke to Roman Protasevich’s father, who is a retired colonel. He was robbed of his rank 10 days ago by Lukashenko along with 80 other military personnel and he told us that the Belarusian security services could not carry out such an operation on their own.” Lukashuk said. He added that Russia is quite adept at persecuting dissidents in the West. When asked what Russia would benefit from this incident, Lukashuk said: “There are several embassies. They will win whatever they want. Of course there is one message: they are training their muscles.”
Quite a few people suggest Russia is behind this, but at this point it’s all speculation. The Russian Foreign Ministry has defended Minsk’s actions.
But as a Russian journalist pointed out: “We should be afraid.”
In the USSR, at least, there were limits. All bets are now closed.