UN Security Council to meet Wednesday on Belarus: diplomats

By: AFP      Published: 07:36 PM, 25 May, 2021
UN Security Council to meet Wednesday on Belarus: diplomats

The UN Security Council will hold an informal closed-door meeting Wednesday on Belarus, which is accused of diverting an airliner and arresting a dissident on board, diplomatic sources said.

After weathering a wave of protests and Western sanctions last year, Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko faced extraordinary new pressure over Sunday's rerouting of the Ryanair flight to Minsk and arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

"We will do a (meeting) tomorrow," one diplomat told AFP on Tuesday, with two other diplomatic sources confirming the plan for the virtual session.

Diplomats told AFP it was unlikely the security council could agree at the meeting on a collective statement. Belarus's unwavering supporter Russia was expected to be in opposition, one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

More Western leaders joined calls on Tuesday demanding Protasevich's release, after the European Union agreed at a summit on Monday to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc and called on EU-based carriers not to fly over its airspace.

Lukashenko and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on opposition protests that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term last August.

The erratic 66-year-old leader was due to address parliament Wednesday, in his first comments since a jet was scrambled to intercept the Ryanair flight.

The UN rights office on Tuesday demanded the immediate release of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend after their flight was forced to land in Minsk.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying Protasevich, 26, and his partner Sofia Sapega.

"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," spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

"We are shocked by the unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention," he said.

The plane was forcibly diverted to the Belarusian capital, "apparently under false pretences" with the express purpose of capturing Protasevich, Colville said.

"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."

Colville said the UN rights office feared for Protasevich's safety and sought assurances that he was treated humanely and was 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," said Colville.

He said information obtained under coercion could not be used against Protasevich in any legal proceedings as forced confessions are prohibited under the Convention against Torture.

Furthermore, the forced landing of the passenger plane "terrorised passengers on board and exposed them to unnecessary danger, in violation of their human rights", Colville added.