Belarus accused of ‘hijacking’ plane
May 24, 2021 @ 14:08 +03:00
The Eastern European country, which has strong links with Russia, appears to have forced a Ryanair plane traveling to Lithuania from Greece to land in its capital Minsk in order to detain Belarusian journalist and opposition activist Roman Protasevich, who was on board.
Belarusian state-owned news agency BelTA reported that authorities scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet to divert the flight as it neared the Lithuanian border following orders from the President Alexander Lukashenko. Ryanair issued a statement in which it confirmed that the crew on flight FR4978 had been notified by Belarusian air traffic control of a potential security threat on board. The plane landed and safety checks were carried out but “nothing untoward was found.”
Protasevich is a co-founder and former editor of the Nexta channel on the social media platform Telegram, a key destination for the political opposition in Belarus. His arrest has provoked outrage in Europe and the U.S. who called for his immediate release. Nexta attracted the ire of Lukashenko last year after it bypassed a news blackout and reported on anti-Lukashenko protests following a general election widely believed to have been rigged in the president’s favor. The Belarusian president has denied the election was fixed.
Nexta was designated an extremist organization by Belarus last year. In November, Belarus asked Poland to extradite Protasevich, who has been living in exile since 2019, and a fellow opposition activist to Belarus for what it called their “continuing criminal activity” and involvement with Nexta and Nexta Live. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen likened the incident to a “hijacking” on Sunday, while Belarus’ actions were dubbed “an act of state terrorism” by Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who said it must not go unpunished. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis went further, stating that he believed “Belarusian airspace is completely unsafe for any commercial flight, and it should be deemed this not only by EU but by international community.”
Belarus accused of ‘hijacking’ plane to arrest activist, provoking outrage in the West, CNBC, May 24