The parents of a detained Belarusian journalist pleaded Thursday for international help to get him released, as airlines revealed Russia has blocked some European flights avoiding Belarus airspace.
The G7 global powers on Thursday also demanded Minsk release Roman Protasevich and the EU’s foreign policy chief threatened hard-hitting economic sanctions. Belarus’s strongman President Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend Sofia Superga, 23. A nervous-looking Protasevich was last seen in a video released by Belarusian authorities on Monday. He was seen supposedly admitting to helping to organize mass unrest, a charge that could land him in jail for 15 years.
“I want you to relay our appeal everywhere, throughout the world, to government representatives, to EU countries, to EU leaders, to US leaders: I am appealing, I am begging, help me free my son,” his mother Natalia told journalists in Warsaw, visibly moved.
Roman’s father, Dmitry, said his son was “a tough man” and “a hero”. “Throughout his life, he fought for the truth and passed it on to people, which is why Lukashenko committed this despicable act,” he said. The family and their lawyer confirmed that they have not communicated with their son since his arrest.
‘Immediate and unconditional release
On Thursday, foreign ministers of the Group of Seven wealthy nations demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of Protasevich, “as well as all other journalists and political prisoners held in Belarus”, in a joint statement published by the British government.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that proposals were “on the table” to target critical sectors of the Belarusian economy.
Mr. Borrell mooted targeting the potash fertilizer sector or refusing gas being delivered to the bloc via Belarus over the “hijacking” of the plane.
He was echoed by German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass also raised the possibility of hitting critical firms in the fertilizer sector and said the EU could curb the Belarusian government’s ability to issue bonds in Europe.
But he played down the likelihood of the bloc agreeing quickly to reject gas transiting through pipelines in Belarus, insisting it was “more of a medium and long-term issue”.
The bloc was also looking at “targeted sanctions” against the Belarusian authorities to add to the 88 regime figures and seven companies already on a blocklist over a brutal crackdown on the opposition after last year’s disputed presidential election.
At a briefing in Vilnius, where she fled after last year’s election, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Thursday called for an “economic boycott of the regime”. Christophe Deloire, the head of media rights watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), was also in Lithuania to file a legal complaint against Lukashenko with prosecutors investigating Sunday’s incident. Later on Thursday, he protested on the Belarusian border along with dozens of Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists.