‘Free Roman Protasevich’ poster welcomes travellers to Malta International Airport

‘We decided to endorse this initiative and show our solidarity by prominently displaying the journalist’s photo’ – Malta International Airport

The poster will hang in the Welcomer's Hall until end of June
The poster will hang in the Welcomer's Hall until end of June

Malta International Airport has heeded a call from European Parliament President David Sassoli to put up posters calling for the freedom of imprisoned Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega.

The poster has been put up in the airport’s ‘Welcomers’ Hall’, where it will remain until the end of June.

In what developed into a still-ongoing major international diplomatic incident that has also been condemned by Malta, on 23 May the couple had been on a Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania when the Belarusian government orchestrated what the EU has deemed a ‘hijacking and an act of state terrorism’ by forcing a the flight into an emergency landing in Minsk on the basis of a fictitious bomb threat.

Instead, the journalist, highly critical of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, and his partner were taken off the flight only to be detained in Minsk before the plane was allowed to resume its flight.  Protasevich is wanted by the Belarusian regime for organising last year’s protests against strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

In the immediate wake of the hijacking, EP President Sassoli called for a “gesture” from EU airports, saying, “I think it would be a very positive gesture if a photo of Roman were to be displayed in the main airports of European Union member states, as a mark of solidarity and to show that we will not fail him.”

MIA took up the challenge, as a spokesperson explained to MaltaToday, “Earlier this month, we were asked by the European Parliament representation in Malta whether we would be willing to respond to President David Sassoli’s appeal to all European airports to join in the call for the freedom of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega by displaying an image or images of the journalist at our airport.

“We decided to endorse this initiative and show our solidarity by prominently displaying the journalist’s photo on the digital screens at our Welcomers’ Hall - these will be displayed until the end of June.”

MEPs calls for those involved in journalist’s hijacking to be punished

On Thursday, the European Parliament upped the ante by calling on the EU to punish those involved in a resolution overwhelmingly adopted with 626 votes in favour, 16 against and 36 abstentions.

MEPs strongly condemned the ‘Ryanair hijacking’ as an act of “state terrorism”, and called for Protasevich and Sapega, as well as all other political prisoners in Belarus, to be immediately and unconditionally released.

The resolution urges the Council to sanction the Belarusian individuals and entities involved in the forced landing and the abductions as soon as possible.

EU member states, MEPs demand, must also proceed with utmost urgency with the next package of sanctions against those who took part in or were complicit in electoral fraud last year and the subsequent human rights violations in Belarus, says the text. 

According to MEPs, prosecutors, judges and law-enforcement employees who play a role in the repression should be on the sanctions list, as should agents working on disinformation, media, propaganda and officials supporting the regime, such as Marat Markov, who interviewed Roman Protasevich on the state channel ONT on 2 June.

In addition, MEPs called for swift economic and sectoral measures targeting key Belarusian industries, in particular the crude oil and oil-products, potash, steel and wood-processing sectors. Financial support to the regime must be strictly denied, any new credit lines to the country’s banks refused, and investments in infrastructure or economic undertakings must be halted. European financial institutions must be prevented from acquiring bonds or any other financial instrument issued by the Belarusian government and affiliated public institutions.

The resolution also calls for Belarus to be suspended from international sport bodies and international events, including European and world championships, and the Olympic Games in Tokyo. MEPs further urge the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to remove broadcasting rights for the upcoming EURO 2020 football tournament from Belarusian state television TVR and to assign them to the independent Belsat TV free of charge.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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