Belarus Aviation Piracy: Violations and the Right to Dissent
Updated: Apr 14, 2022
The piece further focuses on the right to dissent and tries to attract and criticize the attempts deployed to curb this pertinent right.
In layman terms, dissent can be best described as holding a different opinion than the one that is traditionally believed. Many human rights institutions recognize the right to dissent as a human right. Being freely able to express and debate upon dissenting opinions is often seen as a crucial part of a democratic government set up – as it allows for inclusion of ‘everyone's’ ( opinion), which is the very foundation on which modern democratic institutions stand. But recently, governments have been trying to regulate dissent by framing it as a problematic issue that leads to promotion of a propaganda against government and infliction of erroneous representation of the facts. The Pegasus Software cyber-security breach and Belarus Aviation Piracy are leading examples in this regard. The present blog focuses upon the laws violated by Belarus’s act of Aviation Piracy, as it has been termed and try to analyze and elaborate upon the allegedly broken by Belarus in this regard. The piece further focuses on the right to dissent and tries to attract and criticize the attempts deployed to curb this pertinent right. Turning everyone into ‘yes-man’ will never do anybody any favor. What should be an enriching debate between ideologies to maximize the prosperity of society, has turned into attempts at bullying to ensure the supremacy and autocracy of a few entities. What happened in this case, as the reader will come to see, is a classic attempt of a regime attempting to set a horrific example for everyone who try to voice their opinions and stab at the very core of people’s right to have a say in the issues of governance.
On 23rd May 2021, a Ryannir Aircraft pilot, that was flying from Athens to Vilnius, was told that the authorities have received information regarding a bomb threat on the plane and controller, classifying risk as ‘red’, asked the pilot to land the plane in Minsk. The Ryannir Aircraft, flying from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, was allegedly accompanied by a Mig-29 fighter jet, who allegedly warned about the bomb threat in the first place. The plane was not allowed to leave the Belarusian airspace, despite being close to the final destination. Believing the risk as genuine, the flight finally landed at Minsk. No bombs were found over search, but two on-board passengers, journalist Raman Protasevich and his girlfriend, who both have been vocal critics of the present regime, were arrested.
Protasevich has fled from Belarus in 2019. He edited Poland based Nexta Live news channel, which is based on Telegram and has broadcasted the opposition protests in 2020. It is pertinent to mention here that Nexta also helped in coordinating the same protests. In November 2020, Protasevich also tweeted a copy of official Belarusian list of “terrorists”, which included his name and accused him of spreading social hatred, disrupting social order and organizing mass riots. Later on, a video was released where Protasevich can be seen of confessing to the aforementioned accusations, which many now allegedly believe has been taken after inflicting torture.
There have been several sanctions imposed on Belarus and flights have diverted their route from Belarus Airspace. The regime considers this as a propaganda against them and alleged that facts are being twisted by the opposing political forces to paint them in black light. The journalist now faces multiple criminal charges.
Assuming that the aforementioned allegations are true, Belarus’ acts have attracted several violations of the international law. According to Article 1 of Chicago Convention of International Civil Aviation, the contracting State has exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. Article 3 bis a) states that in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and safety of aircraft must not be endangered. Reading these two provisions together, Belarus’ action of arresting Protasevich comes in direct violation. Furthermore, appendix 2 of the same legislation also states that interception should be the last resort to be undertaken by the State. Despite being near its final destination, the aircraft was not allowed to leave the airspace and was forced to land at Minsk Airport – again a violation of the provisions of convention.
Similarly, according to Article 1(e) of 1970 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (which has been ratified by Belarus), it is an offence if false information which the person knows to be false, is communicated and that results in endangering the safety of the aircraft. The bomb threat warning could be considered as a violation of this provision. According to Article 10, the continuation of journey should be ensured and facilitated as soon and as practically as possible. The simultaneous arrest of two fellow passengers on board is in glaring violation of this provision.
Moreover, if the alleged arrest, detainment and infliction of torture is considered, the acts are in several violations of international conventions of human rights. Article 5, 9 and 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 which disallow the practice of cruel or inhuman punishment, arbitrary detention and arrest and grant freedom of expression of one’s views respectively, are being violated. Similarly, Article 1, 7 and 8 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - which have similar subject matter – are being violated as well. Multiple provisions of Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, most importantly Article 2 that explicitly imposes responsibility on state to put a check on any torturous practice in their jurisdiction.
Only time will tell whatever is in store for journalist Raman Protasevich. This more important underlying question that emerges from this incident and warrants further discussion is how dissent is treated in regimes. Albert Einstein once famously said that “Blind Belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth”. Modern Democracies are considered and/or emerging as ‘fostering forms of self-censorship, pernicious ideals of normality, or intellectually asphyxiating forms of culture.1’ Democratic institutions can only be considered as pluralist and participatory if the interests of each group is represented and that is only possible through fostering a culture of developmental discussion that focuses on solution – not by suppression. Fortunately, the right to dissent has started to be recognized as a human right. The only hope is that such suppression activities and regimes are bottle-necked soon.
Author: Aman Gugnani is a third year law student at O.P. Jindal Global University. His areas of interest include criminal law, constitutional law and geopolitics. He aspires to be a dispute resolution lawyer in the future.