Statement on the Belarussian forced landing of a civilian plane and on the detention of journalist Roman Protasevich

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The state-orchestrated forced landing of the civilian plane connecting two EU capitals on 23 May 2021 at the airport of Minsk represents an unacceptable attack on the safety of travellers and an assault on the freedom of press. The EESC, as representative of organised European civil society, strongly opposes any attack against the freedom of speech or press and severely condemns all acts of violence. We welcome the swift, united and firm reply given by the European Council.

We urge the Belarussian authorities to release Roman Protasevich and his friend Sofia Sapega, and to guarantee their freedom of movement. We demand a proper investigation of the events of 23 May by the International Civilian Aviation Organization, and we second the European Council in its call to avoid overflight of Belarus as well as ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines. We call on the EU to put further pressure through diplomatic and economic sanction measures to target those responsible.

Free speech and free press are non-negotiable pre-conditions for freedom and democracy. That is why autocratic regimes strive to silence people like Roman Protasevich. Such actions do not portray the regime as strong and powerful; they unveil its weaknesses and legitimate fears.

The EESC believes that an immediate, coordinated and unequivocal response of the European Union and its allies is needed more than ever for saving Belarus and its political prisoners, including journalists. We continue to stand firmly by the Belarussians in their courageous fight for freedom, dignity, human rights and democratic future.