Belarus has temporarily banned most of its citizens from traveling abroad, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, a move the opposition says is a further step to limit freedoms amid a brutal crackdown on dissent by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The State Border Committee said that the travel ban applied to all residents except for Belarusian civil servants on official trips, state transport staff, and residents with permanent residence in other countries.
The committee added that air travel for Belarusian citizens and foreigners remained open on condition that they have self-isolated for at least 10 days before departure.
The move to tighten travel rules comes after international outrage erupted over Lukashenka’s ordering of a fighter jet to force a Ryanair airliner, which was en route from Greece to Lithuania, to land in Minsk.
Belarus said it had received a bomb threat.
Once the plane was on the ground, opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, who were aboard the plane, were arrested. No bomb was found on the plane.
SEE ALSO: Tsikhanouskaya Hails Worldwide Support For Belarusian Opposition After Diversion Of Plane
Pratasevich, 26, is facing charges of being behind ‘civil disturbances,’ the term used by the government to describe the unprecedented protests against Lukashenka and his rule following a disputed August 2020 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged and many Western governments have refused to acknowledge.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country’s legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
Valery Kavaleuski, the foreign-affairs adviser to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader who many say actually won the vote, criticized the travel ban, saying that Lukashenka’s move to ‘severely’ limit the right of Belarusians to travel was illegal.
’The Constitution stipulates no conditions at all. Outright violation of the law,’ Kavaleuski tweeted in response to the new regulations.
The decision to intercept the Ryanair flight and arrest Pratasevich has drawn additional sanctions from the United States and threats of sanctions and more serious actions from the European Union.
Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994, has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 people have been detained, many sentenced to lengthy prison terms, and hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted.
Rights groups say there is considerable evidence of detainees being tortured.
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