Malta’s MEPs have come out strongly in condemnation of the Belarusian regime following Sunday’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, which led to the arrest of journalist Raman Protasevich.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, they have joined the growing chorus of condemnation by EU politicians and governments alongside many members of the international community.
MEP Alex Agius Saliba emphasised that if Europe wanted to remain “relevant on the international stage, it should retaliate with political and economic sanctions” while noting that the international aviation community’s stance on avoiding flying over Belarusian airspace could be one of the solutions with an outright no-fly zone over Belarus.
“[Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko’s actions were outrageous, to say the least. This is another situation whereby the Belarusian regime is playing the bully game because it is relying on Russia’s unwavering support”.
The MEP continued by highlighting that “last year we were all shocked with the way the presidential elections were undertaken in the same country and today we are helplessly witnessing the Belarusian unilateral diversion of an EU carrier to arrest Lukashenko’s political enemy. This is unacceptable”.
With the arrest of Pratasevich, many across Europe and beyond have condemned the forced landing of the Ryanair flight as a “state-sponsored terrorist hijacking”. Similar rhetoric has been used by David Casa, Malta’s longest-running MEP.
As Co-Chair of @Europarl_EN’s Media Working Group + with other MEPs we call on @EUCouncil & @EU_Commission to
– suspend flights on Belarussian airspace,
– suspend all the air connections between EU and #Belarus,
– start a full inquiry in breaches of international aviation rules. pic.twitter.com/U5zXsLF5zI
— David Casa (@DavidCasaMEP) May 24, 2021
Casa highlighted that the situation, which in his view was a terrorist hijacking, was an outrageous action to happen in this day and age in Europe.
“The flight in question was travelling between two EU member states, involving an airline based in another member state. These outrageous actions are an affront to the EU’s security and sovereignty and endangered the lives of all passengers on board that flight, many of whom were EU citizens.”
He strongly urged that “grave consequences” must follow Belarus’ actions, while noting that MEPs from across the EU’s political groups have come out to condemn what has happened “in the strongest of terms and submitted to the European Council a number of requests”, including additional sanctions.
“Journalists working in the EU, and even beyond, irrespective of their citizenship must be protected. Raman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega must be immediately released”, Casa emphasised.
“The longer they are detained, sanctions must get progressively harsher and widened so as to target and cripple the economic activities of Belarusian state entities, which is what in part keeps this regime afloat.”
I call on the international community to join the Global Picket of Solidarity with Belarus on May 29. We need your support. Tell your friends & the whole world about the repressions in Belarus, about political prisoners, about Raman Pratasevich, Sofia Sapega. #StandWithBelarus pic.twitter.com/ZtnbNNwImE
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) May 25, 2021
Questions to the European Commission have also been sent, with Cyrus Engerer being one of the cross-party MEPs to put his name to it. Engerer noted that the “state-sponsored hijacking of a commercial civilian aeroplane is a violation of international law and must have severe consequences and strong repercussions on the Belarusian regime”.
“What happened is unacceptable for passengers and aircrew travelling between two European capitals. It’s an attack on media freedom and human rights and a serious interference in civil aviation.”
The questions that Engerer and other MEPs have sent to the Commission include asking how President Lukashenko will receive sanctions instead of just rhetoric, securing the immediate release of Raman Protasevich, his girlfriend and other people that have been detained and the EU’s position on the Russian government.
— Barend Leyts (@BarendLeyts) May 24, 2021
First-Vice President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, who has been involved in this issue over the last few days due to her position, stated that Sunday’s events in Minsk are of “unprecedented gravity”.
“It simply cannot go unanswered. The Union must act when our fundamental values are threatened in such a manner.”
Metsola further called for Europe to stand up, “for Raman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, for Belarus, for every person who must feel safe flying in our plans, for every dissident who looks to Europe as a beacon of hope. For us all”.
“Lukashenko is testing the resolve of the European Union and the international community. He’s gambled that we won’t walk the talk. That Member States would be frozen by infighting. He was wrong.”
The First Vice-President also noted that a number of extended sanctions have already been agreed upon, including a pledge of €3 billion worth of investment in Belarus once it turns democratic.
“This is a step. Not the end. Our immediate interest is the safe, quick release of Raman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega – but we will not end there. This shocking hijacking must be the last line Europe’s last dictator crosses.”
Good that #EUCO is sending an important, unambiguous signal of Europe’s determination. If Lukashenka was hoping for disunity he is disappointed.
This is a step. Not the end. https://t.co/fdFBnI5Frw
— Roberta Metsola MEP (@RobertaMetsola) May 24, 2021
Meanwhile, Gozitan MEP Josianne Cutajar highlighted that “the EU and the rest of the world cannot be threatened in this way by illegal and dangerous actions conducted by the security services of whichever State.
“The EU must move from political statements to action. This time more than ever, we need targeted actions, sending a message to those in power without punishing the general Belarusian population.”
Cutajar also noted that “European sovereignty and democracy were violated in times of peace” and that in the future, the EU will need further coordination and cooperation over EU airspace “to safeguard our interests”.
As of the writing of this article, there have been no developments in the release of Raman Protasevich or his girlfriend Sofia Sapega – the latter facing extended two-month detention according to her father.
Both appeared in a video where Protasevich confessed to the crimes that the Belarusian state has charged him with while both stated that they were in good health. However, many have noted that these statements that the two were reading were done under duress.
Lovin Malta also reached out to MEP Alfred Sant for comment; as of the time of writing no reply has been received.
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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