292. 137. 423. 5.
These unfortunately aren’t just random numbers. They tell an appalling story of what has been happening in Eastern Europe, only 1,500 miles from where I currently sit, safe and secure in the UK. They tell a story of a country where human rights, media freedom and democratic values have been replaced by a truly totalitarian regime.
292 days since Lukashenko fraudulently claimed an election win.
137 days since our friend and former member of Index staff, Andrei Aliaksandrau, was arrested and detained in Belarus with his partner for paying the fines of protestors.
423 political prisoners detained since the election was held last August.
5 days since the Belarusian KGB falsified a terror threat and forced a commercial airline travelling through their airspace to land in Minsk so they could arrest and imprison a dissident journalist who had already had to flee the country.
This is not happening away from the media spotlight, it is happening as I type, in Europe, in the twenty-first century. It is happening on our watch and we simply cannot sit back and ignore it.
There has been a great deal of coverage this week about events in Belarus, which given the appalling actions of Lukashenko’s regime in recent months is hardly a surprise. But, and it’s a big but, the hijacking of the Ryanair flight on Sunday, as appalling as it was, wasn’t the beginning of the regime’s attacks on democracy and media freedom.
Lukashenko is a tyrant. He leads a repressive regime and over the last few weeks has initiated a severe clampdown on media freedom. And as the world’s media temporarily moves on to the next outrage it is our job to make sure that people are regularly reminded about what is happening in Belarus, what the impact is in Europe and most importantly what we can do to fix it.
The political leadership of the European Union, the UK and the United States this week demonstrated how quickly they can act when their own citizens could be at risk. They moved immediately in response to the removal of Roman Protasevich from a plane that was diverted to Minsk under the rouse of a terror threat. Within hours the global community had moved on from strong words of condemnation to sanctions and amendments to civil aviation rules restricting airspace over Belarus.
But the reality is they can and should go even further. Lukashenko’s regime is currently financially propped up via bonds refinanced on the London Stock Exchange – which they will need to repeat in the coming months to keep afloat and something that the British Government could stop them doing.
In the coming months Index will be campaigning to get the Government to exert economic pressure on Lukashenko – but we’ll need your help to get it done.