Raman Pratasevich

Yesterday’s hijacking of a Ryanair plane by the Belarusian regime is an unprecedented act of state terrorism in the middle of Europe. The aim of the hijacking, apparently ordered by dictator Lukashenka, was to take regime-critical blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega hostage.

“The plane hijacking is the inconceivable culmination of a week of horror in Belarus. On Tuesday, the most popular Belarusian website tut.by was shut down and its staff arrested. On Friday, political prisoner Vitold Ashurak, sentenced to 5 years in prison, died in jail. The abduction of Pratasevich and Sapega is only the most spectacular hostage-taking of opponents of the regime – because ultimately all of the more than 400 political prisoners are to be considered hostages of the Belarusian regime,” explains Jan-Henrik Wiebe, press spokesperson of the German-Swiss human rights organisation Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights.

Libereco has been campaigning for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus since July 2020 with the #WeStandBYyou campaign, which has already seen 178 members of parliament from 13 European countries adopting political prisoners in Belarus. So far, prison sentences totalling 850 years have been handed down in more than 260 cases, the highest single sentence being 18 years.

Libereco considers the sanctions imposed by European states against Belarus so far as not effective enough. The main demands to the Belarusian regime must be the unconditional release of all political prisoners, an end to state violence and free and fair new elections.

Libereco recommends that all European states take the following measures against Belarus:

    • The trading of Belarusian state bonds by European banks should be banned.
    • Belarusian banks should be excluded from the international payments system Swift.
    • An entry ban should be imposed on all Belarusian judges, prosecutors, state officials and security forces involved in the prosecution, conviction, ill-treatment, torture and killing of political prisoners.
    • The membership of the Belarusian state broadcaster in the European Broadcasting Union should be suspended as long as tut.by is closed.
    • The German Federal Prosecutor General is to bring charges against Belarus under the principle of international law on the basis of the recently filed complaint by Belarusian torture victims.
    • The International Criminal Court in The Hague is to begin a criminal prosecution of all crimes committed by the Lukashenka regime – a pre-trial review of evidence gathered by four NGOs has been taking place since this week. The current plane hijacking should be included in these proceedings.

In recent weeks, prominent Swiss in particular have courted the Belarusian regime. René Fasel, President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, downplayed the massive violence of the Belarusian regime against peaceful demonstrators only a few days ago in an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger as “this stupid situation with the elections in August” due to which Belarus was deprived of the opportunity to host the Ice Hockey World Championship. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis also showed a lack of diplomatic judgement when he recently rolled out the red carpet for Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei in Bern, which Libereco considers a diplomatic faux pax and a slap in the face of all those politically persecuted in Belarus.

“The courting of the Belarusian regime by official Switzerland must come to an immediate end after yesterday’s plane hijacking. While the Swiss-Belarusian dual citizen Natallia Hersche has been held as Lukashenka’s hostage in a Belarusian prison for 8 months, Cassis met the Belarusian Foreign Minister for a photo opportunity in the Swiss parliament. However, a meeting with Makei would only have been justified if Belarus promised the unconditional release of political prisoners like Natallia Hersche in return. Mr Cassis and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs have failed to achieve concrete human rights improvements such as the release of political prisoners. Switzerland must now immediately join all sanctions imposed by the EU and end its morally highly questionable appeasement policy towards the criminal Lukashenka regime,” demands Lars Bünger, President of Libereco Switzerland.