The Biden administration announced sanctions against Belarus on Friday night, following the former Soviet republic’s forced takedown of a civilian airliner on May 23.
“Belarus’s forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight under false pretenses, traveling between two member states of the European Union, and the subsequent removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist, are a direct affront to international norms,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“These events took place amid an escalating wave of repression by the Lukashenka regime against the aspirations of the people of Belarus for democracy and human rights.”
After landing, journalist Raman Pratasevich and his partner were arrested.
The journalist’s longtime friend Franak Viachorka told The Associated Press that Pratasevich “would tell Belarusians not to give up. Lukashenko targeted him because he was so visible, brave and bright.”
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka, who has held power since 1994, has recently faced opposition to his dictatorial rule and opposition leaders from the country have either been arrested or have left the country.
In response, the Department of State issued a Level 4 Do Not travel warning, urging U.S. citizens not to travel to Belarus.
The Federal Aviation Administration also issued a Notice to Airmen “warning U.S. passenger carriers to exercise extreme caution when considering flying in Belarusian airspace.”
Full blocking sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises will also be re-imposed on June 3, according to the White House.
“As a result of this measure, U.S. persons will be prohibited from engaging in transactions with these entities, their property, or their interests in property,” Psaki’s statement read.
The United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Group of Seven and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have also publicly condemned Belarus’ actions.
“We take these measures, together with our partners and Allies, to hold the regime accountable for its actions and to demonstrate our commitment to the aspirations of the people of Belarus,” the White House statement continued.
“We call on Lukashenka to allow a credible international investigation into the events of May 23, immediately release all political prisoners, and enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with the leaders of the democratic opposition and civil society groups that leads to the conduct of free and fair Presidential elections under OSCE auspices and monitoring.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Belarus’ actions in a statement on Sunday.
“This shocking act, perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens,” he said, according to Politico.
“Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation.”
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