GENEVA – The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says the seizure of a journalist traveling by plane through Belarus amounts to an extraordinary version – a state-sponsored kidnapping.
Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich was arrested after a Ryanair plane was diverted from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, by a Belarusian fighter jet and forced into the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Sunday. . Human rights officials say they are shocked at the way the journalist was detained.
UN High Commissioner Rupert Colville has criticized the threat of military force to divert the plane from its runway.
“Such abuse of state power against a journalist for the performance of functions protected under international law receives and deserves the strongest condemnation … We fear for the safety of Raman Pratasevich and want to be assured that he is treated humanely and not be subjected to ill-treatment or torture, ”he said.
Colville said Pratasevich’s appearance on state television Monday night with bruises on his face was not reassuring. He said the so-called Pratasevich confession against serious crimes was apparently forced under torture, which is prohibited under international law.
The U.S. Committee for the Protection of Journalists says it cannot verify the time or circumstances under which the video was recorded. The CPJ requested that Pratasevich be released immediately and unconditionally.
Pratasevich is co-founder of the Nexta channels of the opposition, which helped mobilize street protests after the August 9 presidential election in Belarus. President Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide victory in that election, which is widely regarded as awkward.
The Minsk government has accused Pratasevich of terrorism and provoked riots after the Nexta channels became one of the main channels for organizing anti-Lukashenko protests last year over alleged electoral fraud.
Colville said the arbitrary arrest of Pratasevich and the manner in which he seized it was a sign of an extremely worrying escalation in the government’s repression of dissenting votes.
‘This astonishing episode marks a new phase in the Belarussian authorities’ campaign of repression against journalists and civil society in general …. Apart from the issues concerning Mr. “Pratasevich, terrorized the forced landing of the passenger plane in Minsk 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 was also allegedly detained arbitrarily. His office asks that they be released immediately and says that both should be allowed to proceed to Vilnius, their destination.