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It is time for the EU to act on Belarus. Start by securing the release of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega

24/05/2021

We note with grave concern the hijacking of a passenger flight from Athens to Vilnius into Minsk Airport. The subsequent arrest of Mr. Roman Protasevich and Ms. Sofia Sapega, violates a dozen human rights and should be met sternly by European leaders.

The 26 year old Mr. Protasevich is the co-founder and a former editor of the opposition outlet NEXTA, which has over 1.2 million subscribers. He now writes for the Telegram-channel Belamova. The outlet is highly critical of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Mr. Protasevich, who is charged with bogus offenses, faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted. Also taken into custody was Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen and student at the European Humanities University and the partner of Mr. Protasevich. The European Humanities University has called the conditions for her arrest “groundless and made up”.

The diversion of the flight and arrest of Mr. Protasevich and Ms. Sapega follows a pattern of increasingly authoritarian crackdowns committed by Belarusian authorities. These have seen thousands of protesters detained, torture and beatings perpatrated against young and old. All to hold up the results of a fraudulent election in August 2020. These actions have included repression of Belarusian civil society, including our member organisation, the Belarusian national youth Council, RADA, which has been the subject of arrests, home incursions and threats against their freedom and safety. To the Belarusian regime, we are watching.

The European Youth Forum stands in solidarity with Ms. Sapega and Mr. Protasevich, who have been detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and engaging in democratic, pro-human rights speech. We call for their immediate release. The redirection of the plane threatens not only the freedom to engage in democratic opposition within Belarus, but also the safety of young Belarusians abroad and their ability to travel in pursuit of their democratic freedoms.

We will not accept young activists in Belarus and Europe living in fear of Lukashenko’s regime. We call upon EU leaders, as they gather today on May 24th, to take strong measures to ensure the safety and freedom of young citizens and activists critical of the oppressive Belarusian regime.

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