When a tree falls in the forest, but there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Um, yes. Philosophical idiocy aside, silence would offer the kind of plausible deniability that drives violent dictators to target journalists.
If there were no “opposition journalists,” if no one noted Lukashenko’s theft of the last election, if no one had been made aware, it could not have happened. But it did, it was revealed, and Lukashenko is now desperate.
On Sunday, a Ryanair passenger jet flying from Athens through Belarusian airspace toward its destination, Vilnius, was forced to divert to Minsk. The order was issued under the guise of a “security threat” and by use of a MiG-29 fighter jet escort, compliance was ensured. The Belarusian government claimed the threat came from Hamas.
Once the airplane landed in Minsk, the truth became evident to the 121 passengers who continued to their original destination, with five fewer riders.
The orders to hijack the commercial passenger jet had come from President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus for the purpose of arresting 26-year-old Belarusian journalist/blogger, Roman Protasevich. When the announcement was made that the airplane was being diverted, he told passengers and flight crew “they will execute me here.” Passengers said Protasevich was visibly shaken and gave his girlfriend, Sophia Sapega, his computer and cellphone for safekeeping, but upon landing, she was likewise arrested.
Protasevich’s fear was not unfounded. Three days prior another young journalist held in Belarus died under suspicious circumstances.
Three other riders who did not re-board the aircraft and are thought to have been members of the KGB. In a phone call Protasevich had made to a friend earlier, while in Athens, he laughingly said he believed he was being followed by the KGB.
The low-cost carrier headquartered in Dublin reported that as the plane neared the end of the Belarusian border unprecedented steps were taken to force the flight to turn around. The interference has not been well-received by the E.U. or the U.S. The act has been described both as air piracy and a hijacking and is said to have been ordered by Belarusian President Lukashenko, who is now facing international condemnation and isolation.
European leaders on Monday agreed to impose sectoral sanctions on Belarus and to bar E.U. airlines from flying over the country’s airspace. Every flight traveling through the airspace pays a fee of €500. The cost of that lost revenue, as well as the financial damage caused by other sanctions, should deal a crushing blow to the Belarusian economy, however, it will not affect the country at all. Russian President Putin, who praised the hijacking, has been subsidizing the Belarusian economy throughout his domination.
Rolandas Kiskis, chief of the criminal police bureau in the Lithuanian capital, said an investigation into the forced diversion of the Ryanair flight is in progress.
On Monday, the day following his arrest, the Belarusian government released a hostage video in which Protasevich confessed guilt in “plotting riots.”
Belarus has a long history of selling advertising space on YouTube featured hostage videos. YouTube claims to have removed such ads this week after public outrage.
The advertisements in question this week promoted the confession tape released by government authorities of detained activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
President Lukashenko’s manipulation of the recent election has been recognized by many citizens of Belarus, and he has become desperate to silence the resultant voices raised in endless protests. Thousands have been arrested, raped, and tortured under orders given by Europe’s last dictator.
Putin’s hand in this is obvious. What is chilling is the knowledge that the U.S. would have suffered a similar fate had Trump been successful in his coup attempt. Democracy is fragile.
Hitler failed in his first undertaking to overthrow the German government. If Trump and his GOP co-conspirators are not held accountable for their actions leading up to and during the January 6 insurrection, it will serve the purpose of having been a practice run. Without consequences that former guy, who tried to destroy our faith in the free press, will try again.