France condemns "serious and illegal violation" by Belarus
Belarus – Replies by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to two questions in the National Assembly
Paris, 25 May 2021
The hijacking of the Ryanair flight, for the sole purpose of arresting a Belarusian political opposition figure, resembles, as far as France is concerned, an act of State-sponsored air piracy.
It illegally risked the safety of passengers on a commercial flight operated by a European airline between two European capitals and carrying mainly European passengers, and all this to imprison Mr Protasevich, a political opposition figure exiled in a European Union country.
All this is unacceptable, inadmissible behaviour. In a world where authoritarian regimes no longer have any limits to their destabilizing, repressive behaviour, Europe was duty-bound to react strongly and in a united way. This is what has been done, Mr President, as you were kind enough to say.
Let me remind you of the measures adopted yesterday evening: firstly, European airlines are prohibited from flying over Belarusian airspace. Secondly, Belarusian airlines are prohibited from entering European airspace and obviously landing at airports throughout the European area. Thirdly, strengthened economic sanctions are being implemented against the regime. And I’d like to say that this will be the fourth set of measures. Measures have already been adopted, including against Mr Lukashenko himself and his son, in the package involving 88 senior Belarusian officials who had previously had sanctions imposed on them.
These measures are applicable with immediate effect and, obviously, we’re urging and demanding the release of Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend Ms Sapega as soon as possible.
(…) I wanted to tell you that I especially understand your questioning and your emotion because you’re president of the France-Belarus friendship group – friendship, however, isn’t the right term to describe our relations with Mr Lukashenko – and because you also have personal relations with that country.
So as you know, since August 2020 there have been arbitrary arrests, voluntary organizations have been gagged, opposition figures intimidated and imprisoned, and there has been very serious repression, following an irregular presidential election. And that’s the background. Sunday’s events, which you described and which we talked about earlier, are only an additional escalation, a very serious escalation, but an additional escalation in a strategy of indiscriminate repression conducted by Mr Lukashenko’s regime. (…)
I recalled the measures adopted yesterday by the European Council, they’re very strict, and I’d also like to say we’ll never recognize the legitimacy of Mr Lukashenko’s election – never. We don’t recognize it today; we won’t recognize it tomorrow any more than today.
Secondly, we’re providing our ongoing solidarity to the Belarusian opposition. Yesterday I spoke to Ms Tikhanovskaya, who is currently a refugee in Lithuania, and I showed her the support we’re lending to the opposition.
And we’ve also initiated a series of sanctions – already three rafts of sanctions previously, built on yesterday by economic sanctions against certain major economic entities in Belarus. We’ll continue until the regime accepts democratic recognition and pressure from the people./.
Paris, 24 May 2021
I spoke this evening with Ms Svetlana Tikhanovskaya following the diversion yesterday by the Belarusian authorities of a Ryanair commercial flight and the arrest of Mr Roman Protasevich and Ms Sofia Sapega upon arrival in Minsk.
France condemns these acts most firmly. They are a serious and illegal violation of international civil aviation safety and of European security interests, concerning the diversion of a flight operated by a European airline between two European Union capitals, primarily transporting nationals of European Union Member States. These acts are also a further serious violation of the rights of the Belarusian people in the context of the indiscriminate repression deployed by the regime.
As such, I confirmed to Ms Tikhanovskaya the determination of the French authorities to take action to bring about a united, firm European response, in accordance with the European position since the beginning of the Belarus crisis in August last year. This response now needs to involve strong additional sanctions against the Belarusian regime. The design of these measures is the subject of discussions between European heads of State and government, in the framework of the European Council meeting that began this evening.
We call for the immediate release of Mr Protasevich and Ms Sapega, as well as of the political prisoners arrested and detained arbitrarily in Belarus./.