The Nationalist Party has urged the international community to take steps to ensure the end of the “dictatorship” in Belarus, following its shocking diversion of a flight to arrest a critical journalist.
In a statement, the PN described Belarus’ action as an attack on “freedom of expression” by a “dictatorial regime”.
“This has set an ugly precedent which will directly threaten the airline industry unless it’s countered by action from the democratic world,” the statement, signed by MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and international secretary Roselyn Borg Knight reads.
“This blatant abuse to attack free expression and the free press should not only be condemned, but followed up by adequate measures to ensure it never repeats itself.”
“The PN condemns this incident but above all hopes that steps taken by the civilized world result in democracy reigning in Belarus and an end to the present dictatorship.”
Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994 and has often been described as “Europe’s last dictator”.
Regarding @Ryanair flight from #Athens to #Vilnius It is unacceptable, and unprecedented, to force a landing of a commercial flight between two European cities, and jeopardize the safety of passengers in such way. The safety of all passengers and crew must be ensured.
— Evarist Bartolo (@EvaristBartolo) May 23, 2021
Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo also condemned the incident, but in a far more diplomatic manner.
“It is unacceptable and unprecedented to force a landing of a commercial flight between two European cities and to jeopardize the safety of passengers in such way,” he tweeted last night.
“The safety of all passengers and crew must be ensured.”
Yesterday, Belarus forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to divert to Minsk. When it arrived, it arrested Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old journalist who founded a messaging app channel which has been a key source of information for opponents of Belarus’ longstanding president Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus insisted that it had received a bomb threat while the plane was over Belarusian territory, and said Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to accompany the Ryanair plane to Minsk airport. Belarussian officials later said no explosives were found onboard.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned that “the outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences” and that those responsible must be sanctioned.
“Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned,” she added.
The EU has summoned Belarus’ ambassador to the EU Aleksandr Mikhnevich to demand the journalist’s release.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described Belarus’ act as a “brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight to arrest a journalist” while Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned “this outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications”.