A bipartisan group of senators will travel to Eastern Europe next week to send a united message against human rights violations by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, including the recent diversion of a passenger jet to arrest a dissident journalist.
Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., will meet with Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania next week to show support for the pro-democracy movement, especially after Lukashenko escalated last week with the arrest and detainment of journalist Raman Pratasevich.
“It is fitting that we begin our trip by meeting with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to express our unwavering support for the people of Belarus as they seek a free and democratic future for their country,” Portman said in a statement.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks during her news conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, May 24, 2021. Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to begin an investigation, and the ICAO later said it “is strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing.” (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
“The recent forced landing of a civilian airliner and detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich is a clear violation of international law and I call for the United States and our European Union partners to take swift action in the form of international sanctions against those responsible,” Portman added.
The Biden Adminstration Friday announced it will re-impose sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenko forced the diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight last week under false pretenses to arrest a journalist on board. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the incident “a direct affront to international norms” as she announced the new sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises and plans for more targeted sanctions against members of the Lukashenko regime.
In addition to their travel to Lithuania to meet with Tsikhanouskaya, the senators will also visit Ukraine to express solidarity with the people there in the face of an increasingly aggressive Russia as well as Georgia where they will tout efforts to strengthen democracy, the senators said.
“Ukraine and Georgia are important U.S. partners against an increasingly aggressive Russia and it is critical that we convey our solidarity with the people of Ukraine and Georgia, and encourage political leaders to continue making necessary reforms that will strengthen their democracies,” Shaheen said in a statement.
FILE – In this Sunday, March 26, 2017 file photo, Belarus police detain journalist Raman Pratasevich, center, in Minsk, Belarus. Raman Pratasevich, a founder of a messaging app channel that has been a key information conduit for opponents of Belarus’ authoritarian president, has been arrested after an airliner in which he was riding was diverted to Belarus because of a bomb threat. The presidential press service said President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered that a MiG-29 fighter jet accompany the Ryanair plane — traveling from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania — to the Minsk airport. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
Their visit comes amid international outrage over the forced landing of a commercial plane under the guise of a bomb threat. There was no bomb on board and but Pratasevich, a 26-year-old journalist and activist, and his Russian girlfriend were detained.
“After Lukashenka’s brazen hijacking of a civilian airliner to arrest a journalist last week, it’s important for America to stand with the leader of the Belarusian pro-democracy movement, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya,” Murphy said.
The senators are also expected to meet with members of civil society and representatives of the Ukrainian and Georgian governments.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.