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News May 26, 2021

Call for Canada to step up its response to repression in Belarus

In a joint letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, World Press Freedom Canada, and the Centre for Free Expression call on the Canadian government to take even more robust action against the Government of Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko`s direct order to have a Belarusian military aircraft force a Ryanair flight traveling from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, to land in Belarus’ capital, Minsk, to illegally arrest and imprison Roman Protasevich, a blogger and activist whose social media channels have criticized the illegitimacy and brutality of the Lukashenko government.

While welcoming statements made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Global Affairs, the letter calls on the Canadian government must do much more. “Hijacking a civilian aircraft flying between two EU member countries to arrest Mr. Protasevich is only the latest and most extreme action taken by the Lukashenko government to suppress press freedom and public expression in Belarus.”

It noted the recent Human Rights Watch Report that documented the widespread assault on press freedom in Belarus, with journalists arbitrarily detained and beaten, facing fines and prison sentences on politically motivated charges, having their media credentials revoked their media credentials, and their homes and offices raided.

More than 35,000 Belarusians have been arrested, thousands have been abused and tortured in police custody, and thousands more face criminal charges and long-term prison sentences. At least seven people have died, more than 400 are acknowledged as  political prisoners and tens of thousands have fled the country.

There is much the Canadian government can do, the three organizations said. These include:

  • demand the immediate release of Roman Protasevich and his travel companion, Sofia Sapega;
  • in the meantime, join the EU in providing maximum attention, legal aid, and material assistance to Protasevich;
  • join with its international partners in liaising with the International Civil Aviation Organization to launch an international investigation into the civilian aircraft hijacking.
  • in concert with the EU and the US, go beyond the sanctions already imposed on Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials to increase pressure on the regime.