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Journal Times editorial: Nations cannot be allowed to kidnap political opponents
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Journal Times editorial: Nations cannot be allowed to kidnap political opponents

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When groups allied with a government conduct illegal actions, those actions are referred to as state-sponsored. A “state-sponsored killing,” a “state-sponsored terror attack.”

What happened last month in Belarus wasn’t state-sponsored at all. It was done by the state. A state kidnapping.

On May 22, authorities in Belarus intercepted a civilian airliner carrying a prominent dissident with a MiG-29 fighter jet and forced it to divert to the country’s capital, Minsk, the Washington Post reported. Upon landing, the journalist Roman Protasevich — a prominent critic of the country’s long-ruling president, Alexander Lukashenko — was seized by Belarus officials. The Ryanair flight had left Athens and was headed to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

“Protasevich, 26, ran the popular social media Telegram channel Nexta, which exposed Belarusian police brutality during the anti-government demonstrations last year. The channel and its sister channel, Nexta Live, have close to 2 million subscribers,” the Post had previously reported. “In November, he was added to a list of individuals purportedly involved in terrorist activities.” Protasevich has been living in exile in Vilnius.

According to Nexta’s editor in chief Tadeusz Giczan, Belarus secret agents boarded the plane in Athens and, once over their country’s airspace, proceeded to intimidate the airline’s pilot and staff about a supposed bomb threat. The plane was far closer to Vilnius than Minsk, the Flightradar24 website shows, but was nevertheless compelled to turn around. The flight eventually took off for Vilnius without Protasevich.

Rogue nations cannot be allowed to get away with kidnapping political dissidents.

The nations of the European Union followed their condemnation of the kidnapping of Protasevich with action: The EU nations have pledged to impose new economic sanctions against Lukashenko’s government and have begun cutting direct air links to Belarus.

President Joe Biden’s administration also conveyed strong disapproval. In a statement May 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the flight diversion as well as “the Lukashenko regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists.”

The Biden administration said late Friday that it would reimpose sanctions on certain state-owned companies in Belarus, the New York Times reported

There’s also the matter of one of the few friends Lukashenko has: He is seen as the closest ally to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has called for sanctions on Russia over the Ryanair incident. Lukashenko, Sasse said on May 24, “doesn’t use the bathroom without asking for Moscow’s permission.”

The president is scheduled to meet with Putin in Geneva later this month. He must confront Putin about the state kidnapping conducted by Putin’s ally.

If Lukashenko isn’t made to face consequences for kidnapping Protasevich, not only will he feel he can get away with it again, but dictators and authoritarians around the globe will be emboldened to snatch any political opponent, anywhere in the world.

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