Roman Protasevich Arrest: A violation of International Law — Law Insider
By Tanya Napolean -
Is Belarus’s ploy to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich by forced diversion of the plane against International Law? OR Hijacking Freedom of Expression: How Belarus’ authoritarian government stifled freedom of expression by arresting journalist Roman Protasevich, and how this heinous act violates international law?
Journalists who exercise their basic right to freedom of expression face assault and intimidation. Arbitrary detention is among the risks they face. In an authoritative regime such as Belarus, the president has control over state-owned media, and intimidation and suppression of independent press are prevalent.
The government intimidates local and international publications, particularly those that report on the failures of the government such as economic deterioration. Belarus has not had a strong record of press freedom. Since August of 2020, when the current President Alexander Lukashenko assumed power; many journalists have been arrested.
Recently, Belarus’s parliament have enacted laws restricting freedom of the press. The country’s media law was amended by the Ruling Party and the country’s upper house of parliament. The amendment provides a ban on the broadcasting of unofficial protests and limitations on the creation of news outlets.
Over the last few years, there have been many incidents of repression, including detentions, deportations, according to a Freedom House report from 2021.
After the Confession of Roman Protasevich on TV, The family of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich says he was coerced into making a confession on TV of organising anti-government protests.
Some of these incidents include politically driven retaliation with concerns for human rights. With the rapid advancement of technology, Activists and Journalists now have more resources than ever before to maintain a consistent media presence and reach audiences, owing to the growth of social media and other avenues of communication and reach.
Because of the technological power these people have, authoritarian governments have adopted new monitoring and intimidation tactics. Through the acts of unlawful arrests, the government aims to send the message that anyone who dares to criticize their authority will now be penalized.
How did Belarus set a dangerous precedent?
The Belarus government established precedent by doing something that has never been done before. On May 23, a Ryanair plane carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was set to fly from Athens to Vilnius. The civilian passenger aircraft was intercepted by a MIG-29 military jet to force land in Minsk and the pilots were told to change direction and land in Minsk while flying into Belarusian territory.
The aircraft was much closer to Vilnius than Minsk. Keeping passenger’s safety and aviation rules in mind, the Belarusian authorities should have probably permitted it to land promptly in Vilnius. Upon arrival, airport officials examined passengers and detained at two of them: Protasevich, founder of Nexta, an opposition blog and social media channel, which has played a key role in organizing anti-authoritarian protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, and his partner, Sofia Sapega.
The arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich was viewed as a breach of civil aviation and international law across the world. Passengers aboard Ryanair Flight 4978 informed that the jet was minutes away from arriving in Vilnius when the captain said the aircraft will land the plane in Belarus’ capital after passing via the country’s territory. Passengers informed the media that the journalist appeared frightened as the captain announced the unexpected detour.
What international laws have been breached as a result of Roman Protasevich’s Detention?
The Belarusian government’s despicable behavior violated several international human rights and civil aviation laws. The 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, both of which Belarus is a signatory to, were the two major laws that were breached.
According to Article 1 of the Chicago Convention, a state possesses “complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.” Commercial airplanes traveling over a country’s territory are subject to that country’s full jurisdiction.
Article 3(a) of the Convention, on the other hand, states that “in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of the aircraft must not be endangered.” According to the Convention, Interception should only be used as a last option. As a result, the military jet intercepting the Ryanair flight and forcing it to land at a different location may be seen as a threat to the lives of the crew and passengers.
The Montreal Convention mandates in Article 1(e) that “Any person who unlawfully and knowingly conveys information that he knows to be incorrect, threatening the safety of an aircraft in flight, is guilty of committing an offence.”
The Convention’s Article 10(1) declares that “contracting states shall, in accordance with international and national law, endeavor to take all practicable measure for the purpose of preventing the offences mentioned in Article 1.”
Furthermore, according to Article 10(2) of the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation asserts “when, due to the commission of one of the offences mentioned in Article 1, a flight has been delayed or interrupted, any Contracting State in whose territory the aircraft or passengers or crew are present shall facilitate the continuation of the journey of the passengers and crew as soon as practicable, and shall without delay return the aircraft and its cargo to the persons lawfully entitled to possession.”
According to the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, Belarus can be held accountable for ordering an airplane to land on the pretense of a false bomb threat. As per Article 10(2) of the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation dissident Roman Protasevich should be released from the unlawful detention and be permitted to travel to his original flight destination.
In the case of Sik Vs. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights held Turkey guilty of infringing freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial in the case of journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, who were imprisoned in the infamous OdaTV case.
Their extended and unlawful incarceration had aroused international outrage, and several efforts for their release were started by international organizations. In March of 2012, they were finally set free.
Turkey was found guilty of violating Article 5–3 of the European Convention of Human Rights on the “length and reasonableness of pre-trial detention,” Article 5–4 on “procedural rights of review,” and Article 10 on “freedom of movement” in two separate ECHR decisions for both the journalists.
Article 5–3 of the European Convention of Human Rights states that: “ Everyone arrested or detained in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 © of this Article shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial. Release may be conditioned by guarantees to appear for trial.”
According to Article 5–4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, “Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.”
Furthermore, according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.”
Thus, Belarus can be held liable under Articles 5–3 and 5–4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The arrest of Roman Protasevich has violated international law with regards to both human rights and civil aviation. The international community’s response and punishment should make it obvious that breaches of international law have repercussions.
For instance, Flights from Belarus have already been prohibited in the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Lithuania, and Finland. Belarus’ acts will have more political consequences than legal consequences, the rest of the world should not be afraid to hold Belarus accountable. If unaddressed, such behaviors may become common, resulting in serious consequences and have an impact on international relations.
It is up to the higher authorities and courts of international law to ensure that such an act does not happen again.