Belarus’ outrageous forced landing of plane threatened aviation safety

It is obvious that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has trampled on aviation security in an attempt to clamp down on an anti-government activist. The international community must strictly pursue the president’s responsibility for this outrageous act.

A passenger plane of a European commercial airliner flying over Belarus was forced to land at an airport in the capital of Minsk. It was reported that a fighter jet was scrambled, at Lukashenko’s order, to guide the landing of the passenger plane.

Belarusian authorities detained Raman Pratasevich, the founder of an anti-government news service, who was aboard the passenger plane.

The plane was heading to Lithuania from Greece. Both nations are members of the European Union. The Belarusian government has justified the forced landing, claiming there was information that an explosive had been planted on the plane.

But no bombs were found on the aircraft. As a result, the plane and passengers were exposed to danger and Pratasevich was detained with no connection to information about terrorism. The forced landing appears to have been, from the start, intended as a hijacking by the state to detain an anti-government activist.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has expressed strong concern about the measures taken by Belarus, saying Belarusian authorities may have violated an international convention on the safety of civilian aircraft and passengers. It is necessary to thoroughly investigate the truth.

The EU has decided to ban Belarusian airlines from taking off and landing at its airports and flying in its airspace. It is only natural for the EU to impose such sanctions on Belarus, as that nation obstructed a flight between EU member states.

Belarusian state television released footage of Pratasevich “confessing” to having led illicit antigovernment activities after his detention. It is clear that Belarusian authorities are trampling on freedom of speech and basic human rights. He must be released immediately.

The Lukashenko administration has used security forces to suppress demonstrations that began last summer calling for the president’s resignation. Many anti-government activists have fled to other countries and continue their activities in Poland, Lithuania and other nations.

Lukashenko’s attempts to suppress anti-government movements outside the country, even if he breaks international rules, must be called abnormal.

Russia, which has backed the Lukashenko administration, bears significant responsibility. Russia is blatantly defending Lukashenko this time as well, primarily claiming that it is an “internal affair.” This is probably because Russia has also taken such authoritarian measures against its anti-regime movements.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in cooperation with the EU, must raise the issue at the summit meeting with Russia scheduled for next month and increase pressure on Moscow.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 27, 2021.