The kidnapping of Raman Pratasevich.

Since 1992, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented 1,402 killings of journalists throughout the world.

CPJ is desperately keeping the world’s attention on Raman Pratasevich and others in detention. They document arrests, imprisonment, beatings, and other violations of journalists who were persecuted in Belarus simply for doing their job.

Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, is called “Europe’s last dictator.” Lukashenko has always been an enemy of independent media. He censored the media and social media to claim victory in his contested presidential election on Aug. 9, when thousands of Belarusians took to the streets to protest his supposed victory.

Since November, Belarusian authorities have charged Pratasevich with “organizing mass riots” and “group activities that grossly violate public order.” For this, Raman Pratasevich might be tried and executed.

This brazen kidnapping of a journalist while traveling on a private airline should not shock us. Lukashenko has been emboldened by the feeble responses by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the 57 nation-states that have stood by on the sidelines the past few decades.

Under Lukashenko, Belarus is dominated by Russia. If Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russia show the slightest support for this act of terrorism (and they have by calling it a “brilliant special operation”) or even stand aside, President Joe Biden should reconsider his relaxing of U.S. sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

Biden also should reconsider granting the Russian president legitimacy by meeting with him at a summit later this month. Release of the hostage journalist in Belarus and his girlfriend should be a precondition of such a summit.

This act of air piracy perpetrated by the supposed government of Belarus must be responded to by all countries in Europe and in the West. OSCE must take action to suspend or expel Belarus from the group.

This act of terrorism by the so-called government of Belarus violates every principle of the Helsinki Final Act and of the OSCE. Its participation in OSCE makes a mockery of that international organization.

This diversion of a commercial airliner placed all passengers on board in danger. Upon landing, the passengers were held without cause while a terrorist operation was effected to arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend who were on board the captured airliner.

All 27 European Union (EU) members agreed immediately to impose sanctions, an unusual quick consensus among EU members. The EU immediately stated that no overflights of Belarus would be permitted from their countries. The United Kingdom also joined that decision. The U.S. should follow suit promptly.

Ever since the last stolen election in Belarus, the security forces of that government have arrested, tortured, and beaten democracy protesters. Protest leaders are being held in prison and are incommunicado, including Maria Kalesnikava, a democracy leader. I denounced this regularly at the meetings of the OSCE.

There has been speculation that the West should not push the Belarusian dictator into the arms of Putin by taking strong action against that government. It’s far too late for that because Lukashenko is a Putin toady. The people of Belarus are being used as hostages just as much as the passengers of that hijacked flight were.

The people of the West must stand for something now and call a halt to the rise of these repeated violations of international law. This act of air piracy is a violation of the spirit and intent of the Hague Hijacking Convention, of which Belarus is a signatory.

When I was U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, I initiated a partnership with Belarus to stop and prosecute human trafficking. There is no way such a project should go forward with a nation like Belarus that is in disregard of all laws of decent democratic societies. By this act, Belarus has turned away from any cooperation with decent societies adhering to the principles of the OSCE.

Biden needs to do more. Lukashenko’s conduct should not go unpunished.

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James S. “Jim” Gilmore III served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna, Austria, from 2019 until earlier this year. He served as governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002 and lives in Henrico County. Contact him at: gilmoreambassador@gmail.com

Ambassador James S. Gilmore, III (2019 - 2021)

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