In a brazen state skyjacking of a Ryanair passenger plane May 23, Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 27 years, seized dissident journalist Raman Protasevich and his companion, Russian student Sofia Sapega. A MiG-29 fighter forced the airliner, en route to Lithuania, to divert to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The arrests are part of the regime’s tightening suppression of a powerful opposition protest movement.
“I was supposed to fly home” to Belarus that same day but “all the flights got canceled,” Lana Hulevich wrote the Militant May 28. All flights to or over Belarus have been banned by EU governments to protest the skyjacking. The Russian Embassy in Washington told Hulevich she couldn’t go to Belarus from the U.S. via Russia either.
Last year hundreds of thousands mobilized in protests and strikes calling for Lukashenko’s ouster after he stole the presidential elections. He responded with police-state methods. Some 35,000 people were arrested, with many tortured and some killed or disappeared. Others, like Protasevich, went into exile.
Protasevich, an editor for Nexta, an online media channel based in Poland with more than a million subscribers, helped mobilize street protests. He faces spurious charges of “terrorism” — which carries the death sentence — after the regime accused him of fighting on behalf of Ukraine against breakaway Moscow-backed forces in the Donbass region in 2014. Protasevich insists he was there as a reporter.