Coveney rejects legitimacy of Belarus regime after forced Ryanair landing

Dáil motion demands immediate, unconditional release of Protasevich, Sapega

Members of the Belarusian community in Ireland take part in protest outside the GPO in Dublin last weekend in support of political prisoners including the recently arrested journalist Roman Protasevich. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Members of the Belarusian community in Ireland take part in protest outside the GPO in Dublin last weekend in support of political prisoners including the recently arrested journalist Roman Protasevich. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has told the Dáil the Government rejects the legitimacy of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko’s regime as he condemned the “coercive forced landing” of a Ryanair flight to Minsk.

Expressing deep concern for the wellbeing of journalist Roman Protasevich who with his partner Sofia Sapega, was arrested off the flight and detained by Belarussian authorities, the Minister called for their “immediate and unconditional release”.

Mr Coveney said the Government affirmed its solidarity with the Belarussian people as he condemned the “outrageous attack on EU aviation” nine days ago.

The EU and US have intensified ongoing sanctions against the regime following the suppression of pro-democracy protests last year in the wake of the disputed presidential election.

Airlines will not overfly Belarussian airspace and the country’s state airline is banned from flying with the EU. Mr Coveney said the EU will bring additional economic sanctions against those responsible.

Referring to the “disturbing escalation” of Belarussian moves to suppress all opposition Mr Coveney said “Lukashenko has all but criminalised freedom of expression in his country”.

“Even the most trivial forms of dissent carry heavy costs and lengthy sentences. The Belarusian Association of Journalists recorded 477 detentions of journalists and media workers in 2020 alone.”

Calling for those responsible for “this outrageous attack on EU aviation” to be held to account, he said “it is clear that impunity breeds violence”.

The Minister called for universal support for the Government motion which calls for the “immediate and unconditional release of Roman Protasevich, Sofia Sapega and all those unjustly detained in Belarus”.

It “rejects the democratic legitimacy of Alexander Lukashenko following the fraudulent 9th August, 2020, presidential election that was neither free nor fair”.

And it “condemns the violence and repressionperpetrated by the Lukashenko regime in the run up to, and in the aftermath of, that election, including its actions to silence the opposition, civil society and independent media through mass arrests, heavy criminal penalties, internet shutdowns and restrictions.”

Mr Coveney in the motion also re-affirmed “Ireland’s commitment to keeping the situation in Belarus high on the international agenda, including at the United Nations Human Rights Council and at meetings of United Nations Security Council members.”

Mr Lukashenko has all but criminalised freedom of expression in his country, There has been an increase in restrictions on media outlets over recent months, including the blocking of access to independent news websites.

Held accountable

Supporting the motion Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman John Brady said states had to be held accountable when found guilty of breaking international law.

But he compared the immediate international action against the Lukashenko regime with failure to impose sanctions against Israel over its re-settlement of Palestinian territories and described the inaction as shameful.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Howlin said “what is probably the most oppressive regime in continental Europe is a cause of shame for us all”.

He said the Government needs to do much more than monitoring the situation. “We must mount whatever international pressure is required,” to free the couple. “They entrusted their safety to the European Union,” he said.

A demonstration was held at lunchtime outside the Dáil to highlight deteriorating human rights conditions in Belaruss. Fianna Fail TD Sean Haughey said he had spoken to the demonstrators who were concern that the issue would slip down the EU agenda in coming weeks. Ireland should ensure that Belaruss remains at the top of the agenda, he said.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said that Ryanair was effectively forced to perform a rendition flight, which he described as an “unprecedented outrage”.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said however he was “so disappointed that it has taken an act of international terrorism to unite the EU to actually do something genuinely forceful in relation to the situation in Belarus”.