IMS calls for the release of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich

IMS condemns in the strongest possible terms yesterday’s kidnapping of journalist Roman Protasevich after forcing a Ryanair flight to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in what European leaders called “a hijacking” and an act of “air piracy”.

Gulnara Akhundova, IMS Head of Department for Global Response, said:

“This is an unspeakable, unprecedented and new form of attack on journalists and critics. If goes unpunished, this attack will be embraced by other dictators and authoritarian regimes and a new chapter will be written into the world dictators’ playbook on silencing journalism.

“This would mean journalists and human rights defenders in Denmark, Europe and elsewhere would no longer feel safe criticising dictators or authoritarian regimes.

“As an immediate step, we call for an immediate release of Roman Protasevich  and his safe passage to the EU. We call for an international investigation into the state-sponsored hijacking of the Ryanair flight, in violation of international air transport rules. The UN Security Council should discuss this matter as a global security threat. At the EU level, we call for the measures such as the suspension of overflights of all EU airlines over Belarus, ban Belarusian state airline Belavia from landing in EU airports, suspend all transit, including ground transit, from Belarus to the EU.

“The attack is clear evidence of Lukashenko’s no-holds-barred approach to silencing opposition. It should serve as a wake up for the world leaders who should act beyond statements of concern and introduce stronger sanctions against the regime, economic sanctions, such as a ban on using Swift for any transactions. The Magnitsky sanctions should target every official in the Belarusian ruling establishment and the current list should be expanded.”