West’s Selective Support for Press Freedom: Only in Countries We Don’t Like

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I hate to have to belabor the obvious, but having seen first hand how shallow the notion of freedom of the press is in the US,1 it is instructive to watch the hissy fit and rapid moves to inflict punishment on Belarus for crimes against journalists (or rather a journalist) and forcing a passenger plane in its airspace to land. This story is the lead item in the Financial Times:

And getting plenty of attention in other major platforms:

Needless to say, this reaction came with impressive speed. By contrast, there admittedly was some consternation (or was it morbid interest?) about the butchering of Jamal Khashoggi, but no rush to impose sanctions, even though it was widely believed that Mohammed bin Salman authorized Khashoggi’s execution.

The Saudis also threatened UN investigator Agnès Callamard.

Mind you, we are not saying the Belarus government is a nice lot. They did force a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilinus carrying opposition leader/journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega to land. The pink paper suggests that Protasevich has been roughed up:

A pro-Lukashenko channel on the messaging app Telegram published the first footage of Protasevich since his arrest as the EU leaders were meeting. The activist appeared disheveled and said he was in a jail in Minsk but claimed he was being treated well, despite the bruises visible on his face.

“I am also co-operating with the investigation and giving evidence of my guilt in organising mass disturbances,” he said. He faces 15 years in prison on the charges.

The US is apparently too convinced of its moral purity to see that we are in pot calling the kettle black mode. Our government is determined that Julian Assange rot in a dank pit for his sin of posting footage that showed US armed forces perpetrating a war crime. It’s one thing to hear allegations, quite another to have the goods. That was compounded by his later sin of publishing allegedly hacked documents that Hillary Clinton believes were the fruit of Russian dastardliness and cost her the 2016 election.

Independent parties have no trouble seeing what is going on:

And that’s before getting to Assange having been a de facto prisoner in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years, at a cost to his health, before being incarcerated in the UK, largely in punitive solitary confinement while awaiting trial, then being given the Hannibal Lecter treatment in court. This is the lot that sees fit to judge other countries on how they treat dissidents?

Glenn Greenwald is all over another layer of this hypocrisy, the consternation over the diversion of the Ryanair flight. As he points out in As Anger Toward Belarus Mounts, Recall the 2013 Forced Landing of Bolivia’s Plane to Find Snowden:

U.S. and E.U. governments are expressing outrage today over the forced landing by Belarus of a passenger jet flying over its airspace on its way to Lithuania. The Ryanair commercial jet, which took off from Athens and was carrying 171 passengers, was just a few miles from the Lithuanian border when a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet ordered the plane to make a U-turn and land in Minsk, the nation’s capital…

[Belarus’ long-time authoritarian leader Aleksandr] Lukashenko’s own press service said the fighter jet was deployed on orders of the leader himself, telling the Ryanair pilot that they believed there was a bomb or other threat to the plane on board. When the plane landed in Minsk, an hours-long search was conducted and found no bomb or any other instrument that could endanger the plane’s safety, and the plane was then permitted to take off and land thirty minutes later at its intended destination in Lithuania. But two passengers were missing. Protasevich was quickly detained after the plane was forced to land in Minsk and is now in a Belarusian jail, where he faces a possible death sentence as a “terrorist” and/or a lengthy prison term for his alleged national security crimes. His girlfriend, traveling with him, was also detained despite facing no charges….

There is little doubt that the forced landing of this plane by Belarus, with the clear intention to arrest Protasevich, is illegal under numerous conventions and treaties governing air space. Any forced landing of a jet carries dangers…This act by Belarus merits all the condemnation it is receiving.

Yet news accounts in the West which are depicting this incident as some sort of unprecedented assault on legal conventions governing air travel and basic decency observed by law-abiding nations are whitewashing history. Attempts from U.S. officials such as Blinken and E.U. bureaucrats in Brussels to cast the Belarusians’ behavior as some sort of rogue deviation unthinkable for any law-respecting democracy are particularly galling and deceitful.

In 2013, the U.S. and key E.U. states pioneered the tactic just used by Lukashenko. They did so as part of a failed scheme to detain and arrest the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. That incident at the time caused global shock and outrage precisely because, eight years ago, it was truly an unprecedented assault on the values and conventions they are now invoking to condemn Belarus….

Please read Greenwald’s account in full. He gives a detailed history of the disgraceful diversion and 12 hour seizure of the plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales, including Morales himself. Morales had made the mistake, during an official visit to Russia, of saying Bolivia would be willing to give Edward Snowden asylum during the time when Snowden was holed up in the international transit zone in Moscow. Morales’ jet was forced to divert not due to interception by a military plane, but by EU nations on its flight path revoking its right to use their air space. The presidential plane was forced to backtrack and make an unscheduled landing in Vienna, where it was boarded in violation of international law. He concludes:

None of what happened with this Morales incident has any bearing on the justifiability of what Belarus did on Sunday. That the U.S. and its E.U. allies committed a dangerous international crime in 2013 does not mitigate the criminal nature of similar actions by Belarus or any other country eight years later. The dangers of forcing down airplanes in order to arrest someone who is suspected to be on that plane are manifest. The danger increases, not decreases, as more countries do it.

But no journalist, especially Western ones, should be publishing articles or broadcasting stories falsely depicting Sunday’s incident as an unprecedented assault that could be perpetrated only by a Russian-allied autocrat. The tactic was pioneered by the very countries who today are most vocally condemning what happened.

More incisive comments:

And finally, from Craig Murray:

The USA, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Austria combined to force down President Eva Morales’ jet in Vienna in 2013 after the CIA falsely reported whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board. The monumental cynicism of these nations in sanctioning Belarus for a directly comparable action is sickening, even by the standards of western hypocrisy. Indeed, to force down a Presidential jet covered by diplomatic immunity is a greater offence to international law than Belarus forcing down the Ryanair flight.

Both actions are wrong. You will excuse me also for pointing out that there is no sanction on Israel for targeting over 30 news organisations in Gaza and bombing them.

Perhaps I might go still further and mention that as I am about to go to jail for dissident blogging, I see the western powers as having limited moral authority to complain of Belarus jailing dissident bloggers?

This is not the behavior of confident leaders. Sadly, we have found you don’t even have to rise to the status of being a dissident blogger to get on an official enemies’ list.2


1 Some of the stories from the sorry PropOrNot episode:

We Demand That The Washington Post Retract Its Propaganda Story Defaming Naked Capitalism and Other Sites and Issue an Apology

Site Behind Washington Post’s McCarthyite Blacklist Appears To Be Linked to Ukrainian Fascists and CIA Spies

NBC Evening News in Denver Defames Naked Capitalism

PropOrNot’s Grandiose Fabrications

We Launch PropOrNot.Org To Identify Inept Propagandists and School Amplifiers Like The Washington Post on How to Spot Them

2 H.R.1 (the “For the People Act”) Legitimizes WaPo’s McCarthy-ite PropOrNot “Reporting,” Institutionalizes Ballot Marking Devices, and Cripples Minor Parties

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  1. Fazal Majid

    Worth noting that Craig Murray himself has been sentenced to prison (he is appealing) for journalism that embarrassed the Scottish devolved government.

    I suppose we should be grateful James Blish’s prediction, that eventually the regimes on both sides realize they are effectively the same and merge into one, did not come to pass.

    1. Cian

      No he’s going to jail for repeatedly breaching a court order protecting the identities of women who accused Alex Salmond of sexual assault. He broke the law pretty flagrantly and one which exists (mostly) to protect women from the UK’s brutal gutter press.

      1. Darthbobber

        Leaving aside that transition from a court order to “the law”, they did not even demonstrate that anybody’s identity WAS revealed by Murray (because they weren’t).
        The jigsaw identification prosecution was based on the hypothetical that someone could use anonymous details from Murray’s reporting as breadcrumbs to help actually identify accusers, but there seems to have been no offer of proof that anyone actually did.

        The whole “lower the cones of silence” strategy around the Salmons case just reeked.

      2. Astrid

        Lies as anyone familiar with the story knows. Murray conclusively proved that nobody actually identified anyone based on anything he published, that other pro-prosecution media accounts published much more identifying “jigsaw” information, and prosecution for the type of offense is unprecedented and completely disproportionate to any offense that could have occurred. It’s a stitch up that might make Assange and Donziger prosecutions appear reasoned and balanced by comparison (they are not and are hideous lawfare intended to silence and destroy righteous critics of corrupt governments and corporations). It would never have gotten passed a jury and was obviously imposed by a Sturgeon partisan judge who never hid her loathing for Murray’s reporting of Salmond’s innocence.

        Furthermore, Murray is one of very few accounts that explain why the Salmond prosecution was absolutely baseless and clearly intended to smear a potential Sturgeon political opponent. And that Sturgeon continued to lie and slander Salmond even after he was found completely innocent of the charges. That so many in Scotland bought into the lie makes me despair for the future of Scotland.

        The fact that Western governments and press would decry Navalny and this Benderites allied regime changers, over Assange and Murray, show them for the amorals that they are

      3. Matthew G. Saroff

        As I understand it, the court found him guilty because IN REPORTING TESTIMONY IN THE CASE he provided sufficient information for someone WITH PREEXISTING DETAILED KNOWLEDGE OF THE PRINCIPALS IN THE CASE (as in a coworker in the same office) to perform, “Jigsaw Identification”, i.e. deduce the identity of the accusers of Alex Salmond.

        That is kind of a stretch.

      4. Edward

        How were Murray’s actions “flagrant”? As I recall, the characterization that Murray has given is that 1) the trial was a political hit job against Salmond, 2) the press/government has done everything it can to prevent the exculpatory facts from becoming public, and 3) the accusation that he created the danger of exposing the women’s identities is contrived and not in accordance with normal practice.

        Here is Murray’s side:


        1. Synoia

          Many here are confused. It is common knowledge that Courts in the UK dispense law, not justice.

          1. Edward

            Charles Dickens wrote a novel about the British justice system called “Bleak House”.

            I think one of the consequences of this trial is to discredit the Scottish Independence movement, which makes me wonder if “perfidious Albion” isn’t up to its old tricks again.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Saw a spy movie from the 70s where at the end a KGB agent and CIA agent were talking in a park. The KGB agent was saying that the USSR was getting more and more liberal whereas the US was getting more and more authoritarian so perhaps one day both countries would be able to meet in the middle and be at peace. Half a century later the results are in. The US, like other western nations, went full authoritarian so that they started to resemble and act like the old USSR whereas the Russians went the other way and became a capitalist country.

  2. Ook

    Lukashenko could publicly propose a cold-war-style prisoner swap: Assange for Protasevich. I’m sure that would go well.

  3. John

    The masks are coming off. There is no longer any pretense that the rule is not “my way or the highway.” Would that Julian Assange had been offered the “highway.”

  4. jpr

    Silencing voices that are inconvenient has been a go-to habit for those brainwashed into the hive-mind way of thinking from a very young age:


    In the old days, these murders were freely–even proudly–admitted: de Haan’s death was described in glowing terms in Toldot Hahaganah, the official history of the Haganah, in the same section that celebrated bombings of Palestinian civilians. His murderers lived as free men who occupied high offices and died of natural causes as late as the 1990s. A century later dissident Jews only lose their jobs, so that’s a sign of progress:


  5. Edward

    For some reason my comment didn’t post; 2nd try:

    Protasevich may have been connected to the coup attempt against Lukashenko, so this may not be a simple freedom of the press case.

  6. KFritz

    The size, strength, and geopolitical power of the offending nation are also important to the level of reaction. In 1983, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 for an air space violation, an obviously hideous act. Did any nation at that time suspend all flights to the USSR? They did not, and in retrospect, that might have been a very effective, if very risky, action. They actors who didn’t do it (or possible even think to do it) were (justifiably) scared of the Soviet reaction–because of the USSR’s nuclear capability and military posture. But a comparison of the two events still points up the self-serving nature of the current reaction to Belarus–a not very scary nation.

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