The Week (US)

Dictators send a message to dissidents


Anne Applebaum

If Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko gets away with his outrageous kidnapping of a dissident, said Anne Applebaum, other regimes “will hijack planes, too.” A commercial Ryanair flight crossing Belarusian airspace landed in Minsk this week after air-traffic controller­s falsely notified the flight it had a bomb on board. Belarusian police immediatel­y arrested Roman Protasevic­h, a Belarusian opposition journalist who fled the country in 2019 out of fear he would be imprisoned, tortured, and killed. The forced landing of a European airplane filled with EU citizens shatters a fundamenta­l rule of commercial aviation— but signals “a new norm.” In their determinat­ion to silence dissidents and punish enemies, authoritar­ian states such as Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and even little Belarus no longer feel any need to respect borders and diplomatic customs. If Belarus does not pay a severe price for kidnapping Protasevic­h out of the skies, other autocrats will be even further emboldened. The message Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin, and their ilk want to send is that if you criticize our regimes, “you are not safe. You are never safe. Not even if you are sitting on a commercial plane, thousands of feet above the ground.”

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