Berlin - The forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Minsk by Belarusian authorities is troubling: A supposed bomb threat was probably only a pretext to arrest journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich. The criminalisation of journalists, activists and government critics has reached frightening proportions in Belarus. And a law criminalising coverage of demonstrations went into effect in Minsk on Monday.
The law makes Protasevich a political prisoner. Authoritarian regimes like that of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko use defamatory terminology against political prisoners, calling the imprisoned journalist's publication "extremist" and labeling Protasevich himself a "terrorist." This also makes it clear that Protasevich cannot hope for a fair trial or treatment in accordance with international human rights. The first demand of the Western community of values must therefore be the demand for Protasevich's release.
Despots fear freedom for their critics
This demand should also be echoed by the Kremlin, which continues to grant political asylum to US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden. After all, human rights are universal and must be enforced in the international community. Otherwise, global lawlessness threatens all critical or unpopular individuals.
States cannot ignore human rights to bolster their interests when it seems politically opportune. Germany should offer political asylum to Protasevich. And the EU should invite to Europe all those who suffer from repressive measures in Belarus. Systems of despotism fear nothing more than the prospect of freedom for their dissidents, and also for their citizens.