President Biden on Monday called for an investigation into Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko forcing a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk so authorities could arrest a dissident journalist onboard, saying the incident was "outrageous" and a "direct affront to international norms."
The plane was on its way from Greece to Lithuania when a fighter jet was summoned to escort it to the Minsk airport. Once the plane landed, the journalist, 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, was detained. He is the co-founder of an opposition news outlet that reported on last year's demonstrations against Lukashenko amid the country's contested presidential election. Protasevich went into exile in Lithuania a few years ago, and Belarusian authorities accused him of inciting hatred and mass disorder; if convicted, he faces 12 years in prison.
Biden said the United States "condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest" of Protasevich, and will "continue to stand with the people of Belarus" as they demand "democracy, respect for human rights, and the preservation of fundamental freedoms."
Video surfaced on Monday showing Protasevich delivering what appeared to be a coerced message about his conditions in detention and the allegations made against him. Biden called the recording and Protasevich's arrest "shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press. The United States joins countries around the world in calling for his release, as well as for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners who are being unjustly detained by the [Belarusian] regime."