Belarus President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, “Europe’s last dictator” stunned the world when he ordered a fighter jet to force a commercial plane to redirect its course under the guise of a potential security threat aboard on May 23, 2021. The Ryanair flight traveling from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was in Belarus airspace when the flight was forcefully redirected to land in the nation’s capital.
Lukashenko ordered a MiG-29 to escort the plane to Minsk, according to the president’s press service. Reportedly, he gave an explicit directive to force the Ryanair flight to “do a U-turn and land.”
Ryanair’s flight was not far from the Belarusian-Lithuanian border when they were intercepted — only six miles.
The Ireland-based airline released a statement indicating the Belarusian air traffic controllers advised the pilots of the supposed threat and directed them to land the plane in Minsk.
They were assured that the flight would be released to its original destination once the plane, its passengers, and luggage were searched. The plane was detained for five hours, and one of its passengers was arrested.
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya posted a tweet accusing “the regime” of forcing the Raynair plane to land in Minsk to facilitate the arrest of journalist and activist Raman (Roman) Protasevich.
The 26-year-old journalist has been in exile in Lithuania for the past few years, fearing imprisonment in Belarus. “He is accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder and faces more than 12 years in prison,” according to The New York Times. However, Tsikhanouskaya’s Twitter post indicated Protasevich “faces the death penalty.”
His arrest has been confirmed by Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (aka GUBOPiK, or GUBAZiK) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reports Belsat TV.
The journalist and Stsyapan Putsila, the founder of NEXTA TG channels, were added to the “List of organisations and individuals involved in terrorist activities” in November 2020. Government officials believe NEXTA is behind the demonstrations in Belarus; they suggest the channels are used to organize and control the protests.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
CBS News: Belarus opposition figure arrested after flight diverted to capital
The New York Times: Belarus Forces Down Plane to Seize Dissident; Europe Sees ‘State Hijacking;’ by Ivan Nechepurenko and Anton Troianovski
Belsat TV EN: Ryanair plane’s forced landing in Minsk results in arrest of journo Raman Pratasevich Belarus authorities list him as ‘terrorist’
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Pierlet T’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License