From Belarus, a threat to global media freedom
On Sunday, Belarus’s government, under its authoritarian leader, Aleksandr G Lukashenko, in an audacious move, warned an airline passing through its skies that it faced a bomb threat. It then sent a military jet to get the plane to land in Belarus’s capital, Minsk. No bomb was found, and it turned out that the objective was never to secure the plane. It was to arrest a passenger, a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, who was picked up by authorities and taken into custody.
Across the world, illiberal regimes have found new ways to exert pressure on the media — from directly threatening the lives of journalists to deploying more subtle forms of pressure. But Belarus’s action, supported by Russia, is outrageous by any standards. Mr Protasevich, an editor of a Telegram channel, one of the few platforms where criticism of the regime can still be articulated, was living in exile in Lithuania and now stares at the possibility of 12 years in prison. The arrest violates the letter and spirit of the universal declaration of human rights; the “apparent forced landing”, is, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a violation of the Chicago Convention which governs international aviation; and European leaders and the United States have strongly condemned the move, with governments terming it variously as “state hijacking”, “act of state terrorism”, “abhorrent”, and calling for a unified response.
To India, this may appear like a distant development where it has little at stake. But as a democracy, committed to the rule of law and press freedom, India must speak up against Belarus’s action. The international community, especially democracies, the international aviation industry, and all global human rights organisations need to come together to ensure that Mr Lukashenko is not allowed to set a precedent or get away with this shocking assault on global media freedom.
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