The Biden administration said on Friday evening it would re-impose economic sanctions on some state-owned companies in Belarus, the latest diplomatic setback from a Western government after the country’s authoritarian leader forced a European airliner last weekend .
The plane, a Ryanair Boeing 737 from Greece to Lithuania, was crossing Belarusian airspace on Sunday when it was hijacked and forced to land in Minsk, the capital, with a plane escort of hunting. Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian opposition journalist who lived in exile abroad, was arrested with his girlfriend after the plane landed.
The Belarusian President, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a very brutal and eccentric man, claimed that he had hijacked the plane due to a bomb threat sent by email, so as not to seize Mr. Protasevich . But a Swiss email provider said the email cited by Belarusian authorities was sent after the plane had already been hijacked.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Friday evening that sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned companies that had been lifted by the Treasury Department would be reimposed on June 3.
The United States, along with the European Union and other allies, are also developing a list of sanctions to be imposed on members of Mr. Lukashenko’s government associated with “continued human rights violations and corruption, falsification of the 2020 elections and the events of May 23, ”she added.
The election fraud allegation referred to last summer, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, claimed to have won 80% of the vote in what many Western governments have called a bogus election. His demand sparked mass protests which were met with police repression.
Spokesmen for Lukashenko’s government could not be reached immediately for comment on Saturday.
Mr Protasevich, the detained journalist, co-founded a Telegram channel which is a popular opposition media in Belarus and was used to help mobilize protests last year. Mr Biden demanded the release of the 26-year-old, saying his arrest and a video he made recently while in state detention – apparently under duress – were “shameful assaults on both against political dissent and freedom of the press. . “
In addition to the sanctions announced on Friday, the United States will also suspend the application of a 2019 air services agreement with Belarus and recently advised American citizens not to travel to the country, Psaki said in the report. communicated.
“We are taking these steps, together with our partners and allies, to hold the regime accountable for its actions and to demonstrate our commitment to the aspirations of the Belarusian people,” she said.