Statement on the Hijacking of Ryanair Flight FR4978 by Belarus

Belarus Freedom Forum, on behalf of Belarusian-American communities, calls on President Biden, Vice President Harris, the US Congress, and the State Department to initiate an immediate international investigation, demand Belarusian cooperation with the international community, and set consequences for the actions of the Belarusian regime concerning the incident with Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius on May 23, 2021.

The actions of the Belarusian authorities – including a manufactured bomb threat, illicit instructions from Minsk ATC, and intimidation by a military fighter jet – that has led to the diversion and forced landing of FR4978 in Minsk in violation of international laws and the Chicago convention on international civil aviation, with the political goal of arresting an opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich, have jeopardized the lives of the passengers and crew and set a dangerous precedent that undermines the safety of journalists, dissidents, and political refugees all over the world.

We are extremely concerned with Mr. Pratasevich’s safety, given Belarusian authorities’ willingness to take extreme measures to arrest Mr. Pratasevich and their recent record of torturing and murdering Belarusian citizens.

We ask to

  1. Demand humane treatment and immediate and unconditional release of Raman Pratasevich and other passengers of FR-4978 detained in Minsk.
  2. Impose immediate sanctions against individuals and organizations in Belarus and Russia involved in preparing and executing this act of air piracy.
  3. Designate Belarusian military and law enforcement as terrorist organizations.
  4. Reconsider the relationship with the Belarusian military and the security forces organizations if any programs of cooperation and communication are still active.
  5. Prepare to escalate to the next stage of sanctions against Russia unless Russia immediately stops all financial, military, and media collaboration with the Lukashenka regime.
  6. Launch an international investigation of the circumstances surrounding the claim of a bomb threat and the diversion of flight Ryanair FR4978 from its original destination to Minsk.
  7. Make Belarus a foreign policy and national security priority and increase staffing and budget allocation to the desks, offices, and organizations focused on Belarus and Eastern Europe.

The United States should implement concrete and immediate measures that would force Lukashenka and his allies to back away from their current course of undermining international security for the purpose of staying in power in the face of losing legitimacy with their citizens.