Marco Rubio, Dick Durbin Urge White House Stop U.S. Airlines from Entering Belarus Airspace

This week, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging the administration to prohibit U.S. airlines from entering Belarus airspace following the actions of Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko forced a passenger plane, en route to Lithuania from Greece, to land in Minsk so he could detain Belarusian activist Roman Protasevich.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear President Biden:

We write to express our concern over Alexander Lukashenko’s dangerous and egregious actions on May 23rd in forcing the landing of a passenger airline in Minsk in order to arrest Belarusian activist, Roman Protasevich.  Shockingly, Lukashenko and his regime orchestrated a state-sponsored hijacking in order to arrest Protasevich, who was on a Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania.  We commend your administration’s statements condemning this egregious act of state-sponsored hijacking as well as calling for Protasevich’s immediate release. As such, in an effort to keep passengers and crew safe, we urge you to take all appropriate actions to ensure U.S. airlines do not fly over Belarusian airspace, and encourage our allies and partners to do the same.

Since the Belarusian elections last August, the Belarusian people have been steadfast in their resolve to protest the regime in which Alexander Lukashenko illegitimately declared himself the victor. Crucial to this effort has been the NEXTA telegram channel, which Protasevich ran during the protests.  NEXTA is one of the few uncensored media sources that inform Belarusians, and the world, of the regime’s human rights abuses and provide a platform to organize peaceful demonstrations that still operates even with Belarus’ repressive media environment. Due to the well-documented acts of torture and physical threats applied by Lukashenko on leaders of these protests, many dissidents now live in exile through our Europe. This outrageous abuse of state power by Alexander Lukashenko sets a precedent that threatens other Belarusian dissidents and international safety and security.

We respectfully urge you to direct the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a rule prohibiting U.S. carriers, aircrafts and operators from entering Belarus’ air space, the Minsk Air Control Center (UMMV). The United States has enacted similar prohibitions in the past in order to protect the lives of American citizens, such as the current prohibition on American aircraft from flying through North Korean airspace, or the temporary restriction placed on Ukrainian airspace due to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by the Russian military. This measure would be appropriate and justified given the recent actions by Lukashenko, which threatened the safety of approximately 170 passengers on board the Ryanair flight 4978. We must protect innocent passengers from despotic regimes and stand in solidarity with dissidents who are being targeted.

This brazen act by Belarusian dictator Lukashenko, who is also dismissing yet another election demanding his ouster, demands a serious response.  We look forward to working with you on any such options.

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