European leaders agreed to impose new sanctions against Belarus, its aviation sector and businesses in support of the Lukashenko regime after the emergency landing of a Ryanair plane and the detention of journalist Raman Pratasevic.
The Council of the European Union also called on all airlines based in the European Union to avoid flying over Belarus.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin attended the meeting in Brussels where the leaders agreed to adopt more targeted economic sanctions and called on the High Representative and the Commission to submit proposals without delay to achieve this goal.
In strong condemnation of this action, the leaders called for the immediate release of Mr. Pratasevic and his girlfriend, Sophia Sabega, and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to urgently investigate this “unprecedented and unacceptable” incident.
The council will now move to introduce the necessary measures to prohibit the flights of Belarusian airlines in the airspace of the European Union and prevent the arrival of flights operated by these airlines to the airports of the European Union.
Earlier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the release of the imprisoned Belarusian journalist after what she described as “the totally unacceptable hijacking of Ryanair’s flight.”
“There will be a very strong answer. Because it is outrageous behavior and Lukashenko and his regime must understand that this will have dire consequences,” said President von der Leyen.
It redoubled pressure on the regime to immediately release the 26-year-old journalist who was arrested in Minsk with his girlfriend after their flight was diverted from Athens to Vilnius.
Mr Martin said the kidnapping was an act of coercion and required a firm response from the European Union, and said the EU should send a very clear message that this is unacceptable behavior.
He described the events as “extremely horrific” and said that the actions of Belarus put the plane’s passengers and crew in danger.
“This type of reckless and coercive behavior is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The statement described the Belarusian authorities’ insistence that they had acted legally as “nonsense.”
Taoiseach said: “We all know what happened here… Don’t hide behind excuses.
“The plane was forced to disembark to arrest a journalist whose views do not agree with him. I arrested this person, and this contradicts any sense of human decency or democratic values,” he said.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair Group, said the decision by Belarusian authorities to force the plane to land in Minsk on Sunday and detain an opposition journalist was “a state-sponsored kidnapping.”
A video clip of Raman Bratasevic appeared online during the meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels this evening.
The video was shared on Telegram and has since appeared on Twitter.
The photo shows Mr. Pratasevi جال sitting in a detention center in Minsk, wearing a dark hoodie with his hands tightly tied in front of him. He seems to have a mark on his forehead.
In the video, the 26-year-old said: “I am treated with respect and in accordance with the law. At the moment, I continue to cooperate with the police and admit to organizing mass protests in Minsk.”
The video appeared amid reports that the journalist is in the hospital being treated for heart problems. In the short video, Mr. Pratasevic says he is in good health.
The regime’s propaganda channels published a video of detainee Raman Pratasevic, saying that he is being legally treated in Minsk 1. This is how Raman appears under physical and moral pressure. I call for the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners. pic.twitter.com/zdolsbp6m5
Svyatlana Tsihanouskaya (Tsihanouskaya) May 24, 2021
Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanowskaya posted the video on the Internet and said that Mr. Pratasevic was under “physical and moral pressure”.
It demanded the immediate release of Mr. Pratasevic and all political prisoners.