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UN Human Rights Commissioner ‘shocked’ over journalist’s arrest, demands release

Human Rights. Photp: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Geneva, May 25 (MNN) The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday expressed shock over what it said was “unlawful and arbitrary arrest” of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend.

It also called for the immediate release of Protasevich, and Sofia Sapega, and demanded both be allowed to continue to their intended destination in Lithuania.

A Ryanair plane on which Roman was travelling was forcibly diverted to Belarus capital Minsk on May 23, apparently under false pretences and with the express purpose of capturing him.

“The manner, through threat of military force, in which Protasevich was abducted from the jurisdiction of another state and brought to Belarus tantamount to an extraordinary rendition. Such abuse of state power against a journalist for exercising functions that are protected under international law is receiving, and deserves, the strongest condemnation,” said Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

“Penalisation of a journalist solely for being critical of the government can never be considered to be a necessary restriction of freedom of expression and is thus a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Equally, under human rights law, the mere act of organising a peaceful assembly should never be criminalised under domestic laws, including counterterrorism laws, and the arrest or detention of someone as punishment for the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly, is considered arbitrary.”

He said the UN body feared for Protasevich’s safety and wished to seek assurances that he is treated humanely and not subjected to ill treatment or torture.

“His appearance on state TV last night was not reassuring, given the apparent bruising to his face, and the strong likelihood that his appearance was not voluntary, and his “confession” to serious crimes was forced.

“Information obtained under coercion cannot be used against Protasevich in any legal proceedings. Such forced confessions are prohibited under the Convention against Torture.

“We are also concerned about Protasevich’s girlfriend, Sofia Sapaga, who has also reportedly been arbitrarily arrested,” the spokesperson said.

In addition to the issues relating to Protasevich, the forced landing of the passenger plane in Minsk terrorised passengers on board and exposed them to unnecessary danger, in violation of their human rights.

“This astonishing episode constitutes a new phase in the Belarusian authorities campaign of repression against journalists and civil society in general.

“This arbitrary arrest is a sign of an extremely worrying escalation in the crackdown of dissenting voices, not just of journalists but also of Belarusian human rights defenders and other civil society actors, including those living abroad.”

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