Belarus’s hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania ranks with the 21st century’s worst crimes, says Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic. By placing a fake bomb threat, President Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime abused air traffic control procedures “designed to inform pilots about genuine emergencies” so it could kidnap dissident blogger Roman Protasevich. As he was taken away, the 26-year-old journalist told a passenger: “I am facing the death penalty.” This violation of international rules belongs alongside Saudi Arabia’s “brutal murder” of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, Russia’s use of “radioactive poisons and nerve agents” in Britain, and Beijing’s kidnapping of dissidents abroad.
The truly scary thing is that Lukashenko has none of the clout of those three countries. He’s reliant on friends in Russia. Thankfully for him, the head of RT, Russia’s state-controlled international TV network, has tweeted to say Lukashenko “performed beautifully”. Autocrats supporting other autocrats “is one more element of the new norm”. Dictators and their flunkies the world over are watching to see how the West reacts – whether Lukashenko gets away with it, and whether “this new tool of oppression will become available to them too”. It sends a message to exiles: you’re never safe, not even 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”.
Why it matters The US hardly has a spotless record when it comes to “extraordinary renditions”, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. During its “war on terror”, it racked up plenty. The White House can protest that this fate was reserved for terrorists plotting unspeakable acts, but the US has encouraged the idea that powerful countries can “reach out beyond their borders and grab people”.
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