President Joe Biden: Arrest of dissident journalist by Belarus ‘a direct affront to international norms’

President Joe Biden on Monday slammed the arrest of a dissident journalist by the government of Belarus, which diverted a commercial flight over its airspace for a forced landing in Minsk.

“Belarus’ forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight, traveling between two member states of the European Union, and subsequent removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist traveling abroad, are a direct affront to international norms,” Biden said in a statement.

He added: “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Pratasevich.” 

The statement added Biden to the growing international chorus expressing outrage over the actions of the Belarusian government, with sanctions from the European Union and growing isolation for the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Ryanair flight carrying journalist Raman Pratasevich and 122 other passengers was 6 miles from the Lithuanian border Sunday when it received a bomb threat. Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to accompany the return flight to Belarus, according to the presidential press service. Pratasevich was arrested at the airport, according to the Belarusian Interior Ministry.

Pratasevich, 26, faces charges that could carry a 15-year prison sentence for openly opposing Lukashenko.  

Watch: WH slams Belarus on jet diversion, journalist arrest

In a statement, Ryanair said Belarusian air traffic control instructed the plane to return to the capital, Minsk. The aircraft was cleared for service after being grounded for seven hours. No bombs were found.

Months of protests followed an election last August that granted Lukashenko his sixth term in office. Police detained around 30,000 protesters, many of whom were beaten.  Pratasevich’s arrest follows the detainment of 11 staff members of a Belarusian news website.

The incident has drawn sharp criticism around the world. European Council President Charles Michel called for the International Civil Aviation Organization to launch an investigation, and on Monday the European Union banned Belarusian airlines from using its airspace and airports. 

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