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Journalists In Belarus Face 'Disastrous' Situation, Media Watchdog Chief Says After Filing Complaint Over Plane Arrest

Reporters Without Borders chief Christophe Deloire (file photo)
Reporters Without Borders chief Christophe Deloire (file photo)

The head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has paid a visit to Lithuania in a show of support for journalists in Belarus, who he said are facing a "disastrous situation."

Christophe Deloire spoke in Vilnius on May 27 following talks with Lithuanian prosecutors who have launched an investigation into the recent forced landing of a Lithuanian-bound flight in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, where authorities immediately arrested a journalist who was on board.

RSF said it filed a complaint in Lithuania on May 25 against Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and any other person investigators identify as responsible for the "hijacking of an aircraft with terrorist intent."

Lithuania's prosecutor-general has announced the launch of an investigation into the incident.

Belarusian Journalist Seized After Ryanair Jet 'Forcibly' Diverted To Minsk
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On May 23, Belarusian authorities scrambled a military jet to escort a Ryanair passenger plane, which had departed Athens for Vilnius, to Minsk over what turned out to be a false bomb report.

Once the aircraft landed, police detained journalist and opposition activist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, his girlfriend who was traveling with him.

The moves have drawn international condemnation, with the EU cutting air links with the increasingly isolated Eastern European nation. The bloc's foreign ministers are meeting in Lisbon on May 27 to discuss further sanctions on the country.

"It is important to continue acting, to consider every way to support effectively the journalists in Belarus in future because they are now facing a disastrous situation," Deloire said in Vilnius.

"If you want results -- if you want the liberation of the journalist detained today, if you want the end of repression against journalists and generally against the whole civilian population in Belarus -- there are political pressures and economic sanctions that can be put on countries but there is also judicial action," said Deloire.

Lukashenka and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on mass protests and independent journalists that followed his disputed reelection to a sixth term in August 2020.

Amid international uproar over the grounding of the Ryanair flight, Lukashenka on May 24 signed into law legal amendments severely restricting civil rights and the free flow of information.

RSF ranked Belarus 158th out of 180 in the world in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

With reporting by AFP
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