Anyone Who Flies Should Worry About What Belarus Did

State hijacking could become more common, unless the West cracks down
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 25, 2021 2:05 PM CDT
Anyone Who Flies Should Worry About What Belarus Did
Security employees use a sniffer dog to check the luggage of passengers on the Ryanair plane diverted to Minsk after a fake bomb threat.   (ONLINER.BY via AP)

Another norm has been shattered that could—depending on how Western nations react—put political dissidents and travelers at greater risk. When Belarus forced an airliner down so it could seize a dissident on board, a basic standard was lost, Anne Applebaum writes in the Atlantic. Until now, pilots could trust the instructions from air traffic controllers, no matter what their nationality or political affiliation. But Belarus aviation officials became accomplices in dictator Alexander Lukashenko's hijacking when they told a Ryanair flight that a bomb was on board and it needed to land in Minsk. The crime compares to those committed by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran against opponents, Applebaum says. "All of these cases form part of what is becoming a new norm: Authoritarian states in pursuit of their enemies no longer feel the need to respect passports, borders, diplomatic customs, or—now—the rules of air-traffic control."

"In this new world, dictators are ever more prepared to arrest or murder political dissidents anywhere, no matter what citizenship they might have or which foreign laws or bureaucratic procedures might theoretically protect them." Other nations, including the US, spoke out against the hijacking, and Applebaum expects steps to be taken against Belarus shortly. Autocrats everywhere are waiting to see whether the West puts a stop to this now. If not, they have a new weapon and a message for dissidents, Applebaum writes: "You are never safe. Not even if you live in a democracy; not even if you have political asylum; not even if you are sitting on a commercial plane, thousands of feet above the ground." You can read the full piece here. (The father of the journalist taken from the plane worries about torture.)

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