NewsGuild denounces Belarus government’s grounding of civilian plane, arrest of journalist

The NewsGuild-CWA condemns in the strongest possible terms the Belarus government’s grounding of a civilian plane and the arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich, who was a passenger on the flight.

We call for Pratasevich’s immediate release and the release of Sofia Sapega, who was traveling with him. 

The Ryanair plane, which was carrying more than 100 passengers from Greece to Lithuania on May 23, was forced to land by a Belarusian military aircraft. According to CNN, Ryanair flight 4978 was about to begin its descent to Vilnius in Lithuania when it suddenly changed direction after a “security alert,” turned sharply east and descended towards the capital of Belarus, Minsk.

Pratasevich is the founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA, which played a role in organizing protests against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s disputed election in August 2020. Pratasevich was charged with “organizing mass riots and group actions that grossly violate public order.”

Fearing prosecution, Pratasevich fled Belarus in 2019. He lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. 

In a video circulated by state TV channels on May 24, Pratasevich said he was arrested by officials of the Belarus Ministry of Internal Affairs at the national airport in Minsk. He said he was in good health and that he played a role in organizing mass protests in Minsk last year, but bruises were visible on his forehead.

In condemning the actions of the Belarus government, The NewsGuild joins journalism organizations, press freedom advocates, and pro-democracy forces worldwide.

The International Federation of Journalists, of which The NewsGuild is a member, called the grounding of the plane “an act of air piracy and state terrorism.” We join them in demanding his immediate release and those of 28 journalists and media actors currently detained in Belarus.

Photo above: A screenshot, borrowed from IFJ.
Note: Some American news outlets spell his name “Roman Protasevich.