President Joe Biden condemned Belarus for forcing a civilian airliner passing through the country’s airspace to divert and land in his capital, where a journalist was kidnapped from the flight and taken into custody. In a statement released Monday evening, Biden called it a “scandalous” affront to international standards and joined other nations in calling for the immediate release of blogger Raman Pratasevich.
Mr Biden called for an international investigation and supported theand other measures “against Belarus in response. He said his administration would” develop appropriate options to hold those responsible accountable, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners and international organizations. “
Pratasevich disappeared in custody after being taken off the plane in Minsk on Sunday, but 24 hours later he reappeared in a video apparently filmed by Belarusian police and released on a government social media channel.
“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and confess to having organized mass protests in Minsk,” he said in the video.
CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that Pratasevich was a key figure in the huge, which saw tens of thousands of people taking to the streets last year.
But family and friends say the videotaped confession posted online Monday was forced and they note a visible bruise on his forehead.
European leaders were quick to react to the false bomb threat Belarusian officials used to hijack the Ryanair plane to Minsk in order to allow security services to arrest Pratasevich.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Belarus of using its “control of its airspace to perpetrate state hijacking”.
European governments have not only ordered their planes to avoid Belarusian airspace, they have also announced that they will close their airports to flights from the country and sanction personalities accused of being involved in the “hijacking”.
Thousands of young Belarusians, including Pratasevich, fled their country for safety after the country’s police attacked and arrested hundreds of anti-Lukashenko protesters last year.
Another of them was Franak Viacorka, and Palmer asked him whether the dramatic actions of the Belarusian government over the weekend had increased the level of fear for Lukashenko’s opponents.
“I’m scared for my life, I’m scared for my friends, my coworkers… now no one can feel safe,” Viacorka told CBS News. “Even if you are traveling abroad, we know we could be tracked.”
And they don’t know what President Lukashenko – brazen enough to force a civilian plane to grab a political dissident – might do for a recall.