The Group of 7 and the EU on Thursday released a joint statement to condemn Belarus for the forced landing of a passenger flight and warned of further sanctions against Belarusian authorities.
“We, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and the High Representative of the European Union condemn in the strongest terms the unprecedented action by the Belarusian authorities in arresting independent journalist, Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sopega, after forcing flight FR4978 on which they were travelling to land in Minsk on 23 May,” the joint statement said.
The foreign ministers said this action was “a serious attack on the rules governing civil aviation” and called on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to urgently address the incident.
“This action also represents a serious attack on media freedom. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Raman Pratasevich, as well as all other journalists and political prisoners held in Belarus,” the ministers said.
“We will enhance our efforts, including through further sanctions as appropriate, to promote accountability for the actions of the Belarusian authorities.”
The Ryanair flight heading from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday was diverted to Belarus on the pretext of a bomb threat.
A Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to escort the plane to the Minsk airport, where authorities detained Protasevich, a journalist they said was wanted for involvement in a “terrorist incident,” and his companion Sapega.
Protasevich is the co-founder of social media news channel Nexta, which played a major role in mass protests in Belarus last summer demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko after his victory in elections.