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Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire holds a portrait of Raman Pratasevich in the Salcininkai, Lithuania on the borderr with Belarus
Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire holds a portrait of Raman Pratasevich in the Salcininkai, Lithuania on the border with BelarusImage: Janis Laizans/REUTERS

Raman Pratasevich meets lawyer, media protests on border

May 28, 2021

Raman Pratasevich met with his lawyer after four days in detention. Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists were joined by the director of Reporters Without Borders in a protest vigil on the EU's eastern border.

https://p.dw.com/p/3u5CR

Raman Pratasevich was able to meet with his lawyer on Wednesday, four days after he was detained by Belarusian authorities who diverted a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius for the purpose of arresting him and his girlfriend.

His lawyer, Inessa Olenskaya, would only say that "he is in good spirits, positive and cheerful," citing confidentiality reasons. Pratasevich's parents, who live in exile in Poland, had previously expressed concern that he was being abused while in detention after the Belarusian government released video of a coerced confession Monday.

Lithuanian and Belarusian journalists protest the detention of colleagues in Belarus on the EU's eastern border
Lithuanian and Belarusian journalists protest the detention of colleagues in Belarus on the EU's eastern border Image: Janis Laizans/REUTERS

On the EU's eastern border, a protest vigil

Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, was joined by dozens of Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists in Salcininkai, Lithuania on the border with Belarus.

Photographs of 21 media workers currently imprisoned in Belarus were placed on the border fence. Deloire said journalists in Belarus were facing a "disastrous situation".

"We will not forget you, we will continue to fight for you," Deloire declared.

Earlier in the day, Deloire requested Lithuanian prosecutors investigate Lukashenko's role in diverting the Ryanair flight carrying Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, a Russian national who was also detained by authorities in a country often referred to as Europe's last dictatorship.

On the border, Lithuanian journalist Sarunas Cerniauskas noted the demonstration was "as close as we can get to the regime."

"We really want to come closer when it comes to exposing the things that are going on in Belarus and all the abuses of human rights and the abuses of power," Cerniauskas told AFP.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's main opponent in the contested Belarusian presidential election last August who is now in exile in Vilnius, has called for an international day of solidarity with Belarus on May 29.

UN civil aviation body agrees to investigate Ryanair flight diversion

Also Thursday the UN's civil aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), agreed to investigate Minsk for diverting the Ryanair flight carrying Pratasevich and Sapega as the United States and its allies requested.

The Ryanair plane Belarusian authorities had diverted to Minsk on the false pretext of a bomb threat to offload and detain Pratasevich and Sapega lands in Vilnius afterwards
The Ryanair plane Belarusian authorities had diverted to Minsk on the false pretext of a bomb threat to offload and detain Pratasevich and Sapega lands in Vilnius afterwardsImage: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo/picture alliance

The ICAO has said it will produce a preliminary report by June 25 on whether international aviation rules were broken.

Of relevance are two treaties known as the Chicago Convention and the Montreal Convention that concern public safety. Under the rules of civil aviation, the seizure of planes and the knowing transmission of false information that imperils safety is banned.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses parliament in Minsk, May 26, 2021.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko blamed foreign interference and defended diverting the plane in a speech to parliament this weekImage: Maxim Guchek/BelTA/REUTERS

Belarus clamps down even more on internal dissent

Earlier this week, Lukashenko railed against Pratasevich claiming the 26-year-old journalist had sought a "bloody rebellion". Lukashenko said he believed the West was staging a "hybrid war" against his rule.

Belarusian state media published the contents of a new law earlier this week that makes it a crime for any Belarusian citizen – not just media workers – to provide live coverage of anti-government protests which are, by definition, unsanctioned in Belarus. The new law also forbids crowdfunding to pay fines issued for demonstrating against the government.

Belarus already had an abysmal press freedom record, with Reporters Without Borders ranking it 158th out of 180 countries on their annual press freedom index this year.

ar/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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