The mother of the Belarusian journalist detained in the country after his flight was forced to land has shared her anguish at the situation – and called for help from international leaders.
Roman Protasevich‘s mother, Natalia, begged the “whole world and all governments” to “hear the scream of my heart, see the tears of the mother, and help him”.
It comes as the G7 and the European Union released a joint statement condemning the actions of the Belarusian government under President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Ryanair plane 26-year-old Mr Potasevich was travelling on with his girlfriend and more than 100 other passengers, was made to land in Belarus’s capital Minsk on Sunday.
The plane had been travelling from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius in Lithuania, before it was ordered to land in Belarus, while being shadowed by fighter jets.
A tearful Mrs Protasevich added: “Please understand that every day, every hour, every minute of delay is worth the life of both my son and the young people who are now behind the bars of prisons. Please save them.”
In a joint statement, the group of countries which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, as well as the European Union, said they “condemn in the strongest terms the unprecedented action by the Belarusian authorities”.
They added: “This action also represents a serious attack on media freedom. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Roman Protasevich, as well as all other journalists and political prisoners held in Belarus.
“We will enhance our efforts, including through further sanctions as appropriate, to promote accountability for the actions of the Belarusian authorities.”
Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than a quarter of a century, has relentlessly stifled dissent while in office.
This includes during last year’s election, which saw protests on the streets of the country and the opposition leader flee amid contested results.
The 66-year-old said the flight was diverted because of a bomb threat sent from Switzerland.
However secure email provider Proton, which is based in Switzerland, has said the email in question was sent after the plane was diverted – and that they will support European authorities “upon receiving a legal request”.
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European countries have moved to ban their airlines from flying to or over Belarus, and are also working to keep flights from the state heading into the continent’s skies.
Further sanctions, including on Belarus’s sizable potash fertiliser exports, are being considered – with the EU saying the bloc imported €1.2bn (£1bn) from the Lukashenko regime last year.