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Press briefing notes on Belarus

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva

Date: 25 May 2021

Like so many others, we are shocked by the unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention of the Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich after the Ryanair plane on which he was travelling was forcibly diverted to the Belarus capital Minsk, apparently under false pretences and with the express purpose of capturing Mr Protasevich.

The manner, through threat of military force, in which Protasevich was abducted from the jurisdiction of another State and brought within that of Belarus was tantamount to an extraordinary rendition. Such abuse of State power against a journalist for exercising functions that are protected under international law is receiving, and deserves, the strongest condemnation.

Penalization of a journalist solely for being critical of the government can never be considered to be a necessary restriction of freedom of expression and is thus a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Equally, under human rights law, the mere act of organizing a peaceful assembly should never be criminalized under domestic laws, including counterterrorism laws, and the arrest or detention of someone as punishment for the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly, is considered arbitrary.

We fear for Roman Protasevich's safety and wish to seek assurances that he is treated humanely and is not subjected to ill treatment or torture. His appearance on state TV last night was not reassuring, given the apparent bruising to his face, and the strong likelihood that his appearance was not voluntary, and his "confession" to serious crimes was forced. Information obtained under coercion cannot be used against Mr Protasevich in any legal proceedings. Such forced confessions are prohibited under the Convention against Torture.

We are also concerned about Mr Protasevich's girlfriend, Sofia Sapaga, who has also reportedly been arbitrarily arrested.

In addition to the issues relating to Mr Protasevich, the forced landing of the passenger plane in Minsk terrorized passengers on board and exposed them to unnecessary danger, in violation of their human rights.

This astonishing episode constitutes a new phase in the Belarusian authorities campaign of repression against journalists and civil society in general. This arbitrary arrest is a sign of an extremely worrying escalation in the crackdown of dissenting voices, not just of journalists but also of Belarusian human rights defenders and other civil society actors, including those living abroad.

We call for the immediate release of both Roman Protasevich, and Sofia Sapega, both of whom should be allowed to continue to their intended destination in Lithuania.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Rupert Colville + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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