White House press secretary Jen Psaki condemned Belarus’ decision to divert a passenger flight and arrest opposition journalist Raman Protasevich, who was on the aircraft, over the weekend.
Longtime Belarus leader Aleksandr G. Lukashenko – who has a history of suppressing free speech – had a military aircraft intercept, divert and force down a Ryanair flight carrying about 170 passengers Sunday. Belarusian air traffic controllers told pilots there was a possible “security threat on board” while the plane was flying over Belarus, prompting the aircraft to be escorted by a fighter jet and land in Minsk, according to The New York Times.
Once on the ground, Protasevich was removed and arrested. The incident has caused international uproar, with European Union (EU) leaders threatening sanctions and the Greek Foreign Ministry dubbing it a “state hijacking,” the NYT reported. (RELATED: Two Journalists Sentenced To Prison In Belarus For Filming Protests: REPORT)
Psaki was asked about the situation during Monday’s press briefing and said President Joe Biden has already been briefed on it. She called the incident “a shocking act” and said the administration is “in touch with range of partners bilaterally and through multilateral channels from NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization].”
“We certainly … condemn Lukashenko’s regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists simply for doing their job,” Psaki said. “This was a shocking act. Diverting a flight between two EU member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist constitutes a brazen affront of international peace and security by the regime.”
“We demand an immediate international, transparent and credible investigation of this incident. We are in touch with a range of partners bilaterally and through multilateral channels from NATO, the OSE, UN, EU and others, and we have nothing to read out at this point, but we will continue to coordinate closely with them,” Psaki added.