On May 23, 2021, the eastern European nation of Belarus attracted international attention by forcing a Ryanair plane to land in its capital city of Minsk while flying through Belarusian airspace. What was the motivation for this command, and what are the ramifications for the freedom of Belarusians?

According to Belarusian authorities, the forced landing was due to a bomb threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas (which has denied issuing any such threat). The flight was traveling from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, and when it landed in Minsk, two passengers were arrested: dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich (living in exile in Lithuania) and his girlfriend.1 Protasevich had already been charged with inciting mass unrest, which carries a sentence of up to fifteen years in jail, and he now faces the more serious (but unfounded) charge of engaging in terrorism.2

This is just one instance of many in which Alexander Lukashenko, who’s often called “Europe’s last dictator,” has violated the rights of Belarusians.3 The Belarusian president, who has been in power since 1994, has repeatedly been accused of rigging elections, most notably in 2006 and 2020. . . .

1. “Belarus Plane: What We Know and What We Don’t,” BBC News, June 25, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57239521.

2. “Roman Protasevich: Belarus Dissident Seized from Ryanair Plane,” BBC News, June 25, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57229635.

3. “Alexander Lukashenko: President of Belarus,” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 24, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Lukashenko.

4. “Belarus: Crackdown on Independent Journalism,” Human Rights Watch, March 29, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/29/belarus-crackdown-independent-journalism.

5. “Vitaly Dubikov,” Human Rights Watch, September 15, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/belarus-systematic-beatings-torture-protesters#Vitaly_Dubikov.

6. Hanna Yarahova, “Lukashenko’s Surprise Inauguration Is a ‘Thieves’ Meeting’ and a ‘Farce,’ Belarus Opposition Says,” CNN World, September 23, 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/23/europe/alexander-lukashenko-inaugurated-belarus-intl/index.html; Madeline Roache, “Tens of Thousands Are Protesting in Belarus. Here’s What’s behind the Uprising against President Lukashenko,” Time, August 18, 2020, https://time.com/5880593/belarus-protests-lukashenko/.

7. “Belarus Election: ‘Widespread Torture’ Inflicted on Jailed Protestors,” BBC News, August 14, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53773534; “Belarus: Systematic Beatings, Torture of Protestors,” Human Rights Watch, September 15, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/belarus-systematic-beatings-torture-protesters.

8. Sergey Goryashko, “Interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Nexta, the Largest Protest Channel in Belarus,” BBC News Russia, August 12, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-53752745; “How Belarus Was Left without Internet,” BBC News Russia, August 11, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-53700955.

9. Tim Lister, “Roman Protasevich: The Young Dissident Who Belarus Diverted a Ryanair Flight to Arrest,” CNN World, May 24, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/24/europe/roman-protasevich-belarus-profile-cmd-intl/index.html.

10. Goryashko, “Interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Nexta.”.

11. “Belarus—The World Factbook,” CIA, June 29, 2021, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/belarus/#economy.

12. The GDPs per capita of Lithuania and Latvia have also increased more than Belarus’s, though the difference is not as dramatic; “GDP Per Capita, 1970 to 2017,” Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/real-gdp-per-capita-pwt?country=BLR~LTU~POL~LVA~RUS~EST.

13. “Minsk Protesters Challenge Controversial Law on ‘Parasites,’” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, February 17, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-minsk-protest-parasite-law/28315991.html; Yerzhan Tokbolat, “Belarus Protests: Beleaguered Economy Underpins Anger at Lukashenko Government,” August 26, 2020, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/belarus-protests-beleaguered-economy-underpins-anger-at-lukashenko-government-145063.

14. Felix Krawatzek and Gwendolyn Sasse, “Belarus Protests: Why People Have Been Taking to the Streets—New Data,” The Conversation, February 4, 2021, https://theconversation.com/belarus-protests-why-people-have-been-taking-to-the-streets-new-data-154494; Dan Peleschuk, “To Support Belarus’ Opposition, the West Needs to Get Creative,” February 26, 2021, https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/29455/to-support-belarus-protests-the-west-needs-to-get-creative.

15. Abdujalil Abdurasulov, “Belarus Protests: ‘We Can Breathe for the First Time in Our Lives,” BBC News, August 16, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53796989.

16. Jennifer Hansler, “US, EU, UK and Canada Impose Fresh Sanctions on Belarus,” CNN Politics, June 21, 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/21/politics/belarus-coordinated-sanctions/index.html.

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