Protesting the detention of Roman Protasevich in Warsaw, Poland, May 2021 Dawid Zuchowicz / Agencja Gazeta / Reuters
On Sunday, May 23, Belarus shocked the world by dispatching a fighter jet to force a Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania to change course and land instead in Minsk, where authorities then arrested two passengers: Raman Pratasevich, a 26-year-old exiled Belarusian journalist, and his girlfriend, Sofya Sapega. Pratasevich faces criminal charges for allegedly organizing “mass disturbances” via Telegram, an instant-messaging platform; Sapega has been charged with unspecified offenses. The European Union has called for an investigation and for adding to the EU sanctions that the government of Belarus’s authoritarian ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, already faces. The United States seems likely to follow suit.
On Monday, Belarusian authorities distributed a 30-second video of Pratasevich nervously asserting that he had been treated well in custody and that he was cooperating with the investigation into his activities; a video of Sapega followed on Tuesday. Yet given the Belarusian government’s history of torturing prisoners and forcing them to release such statements, it was difficult to put much stock in these reassurances.
Lukashenko’s methods were novel; state-sponsored hijackings are rare. But Pratasevich’s arrest represents just the most recent example of a trend toward transnational repression, as authoritarian regimes increasingly seek
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