US President Joe Biden on Monday (local time) sentenced Belarus for intercepting a commercial flight and arresting activist and journalist Roman Protasevich. He has asked his advisers to give him options to deal with those responsible.
“This scandalous incident and the video that Protasevich appears to have made under duress are embarrassing attacks on both political dissidents and freedom of the press,” said Biden. He was referring to a Belarusian TV broadcast in which the activist says he is cooperating with the authorities and acknowledges that he was involved in the organization of widespread protests in the Belarusian capital Minsk against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The European Union had previously demanded the release of the activist and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega and “strongly” condemned the Belarusian action. At a summit in Brussels, leaders agreed that the existing sanctions package against 88 people, including President Lukashenko and seven organizations, should be expanded. They have also asked the European Commission to develop proposals for new, economic punitive measures as soon as possible.
Biden said he welcomed the new measures the EU wants to take and called on his advisers to “develop appropriate options to hold those responsible to account”.
Bidens national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on the phone to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, expressed “strong support from the United States for the Belarusian people’s demands for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the White House said.
In conjunction with the European Union and other allies, Sullivan said the US will hold the Belarusian government responsible for the interception of the Ryanair plane and the detention of Protasevich, a statement said.