US re-imposes sanctions on Belarus’ major enterprises in response to Ryanair hijacking, human rights abuses and torture

The Belarusian community of the San Francisco Bay Area gathered at Harry Bridges Plaza to rally against the continuous human rights abuses, suppression of the press, the Ryanair plane hijacking and subsequent arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich.

It’s already been over a year since the start of the Belarusian uprising against “Europe’s Last Dictator” Alexander Lukashenko who’s been in power in Belarus since 1994. Since August 2020, over 35,000 Belarusians were detained for political reasons, which is the largest number in Europe within the past 40 years. According to the UN and human rights organizations, detainees are beaten, raped, and tortured in Belarusian jails. Just two days before the Ryanair flight was hijacked, one of the political prisoners, Vitold Ashurak, has died in jail under undetermined circumstances. Two days after the hijacking, a 17-year-old activist Dmitry Stakhovsky killed himself. “If you are reading this, then I am not alive. The Investigative Committee is to blame for that,” he said in the suicide note.

According to the official statement by the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, on June 3 the US reimposed “full blocking sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises.” As described in the statement, “U.S. persons will be prohibited from engaging in transactions with these entities, their property, or their interests in property.” The nine enterprises that are now under sanctions include the largest state-owned enterprises in Belarus, which bring most of the revenue for the regime:

  • Belneftekhim
  • Belarusian Oil Trade House
  • Belneftekhim USA, Inc.
  • Belshina OAO
  • Grodno Azot OAO
  • Grodno Khimvolokno OAO
  • Lakokraska OAO
  • Naftan OAO
  • Polotsk Steklovolokno OAO

“Heavy repressions, no free media, the airspace is now completely blocked. People are repressed, people die in jail, people are being killed on the street,” this is how one of the rally attendees described the country’s current situation.

Psaki identified grounding of the Ryanair plane as “forced diversion under false pretenses.” The incident has provoked widespread condemnation, from Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary branding it “state-sponsored piracy” to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accusing Lukashenko of a “shocking assault on civil aviation and an assault on international law.” President Biden called the forced grounding of the Ryanair plane a “direct affront to international norms” and joined the calls to immediately release Mr. Pratasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus.

The attendees of the San Francisco rally pointed out to raising international and media awareness as one of the things that other nations can do to help to mitigate the acute political crisis in Belarus.

“I think the only way that we can help is to show our solidarity. Belarusians abroad as well as civil society in other countries are supporting Belarusians but at the end of the day it’s Belarusians inside the country who should make their decisions, fight their fear and do something about the current situation,” said Katie, another rally attendee.

Photos and videos by Yury Pytskou, Kristina Rudzinskaya, Katie Koche and Kirill Borisov.

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