How Belarus snatched dissident journalist from a Ryanair flight

Elias Hubbard
May 25, 2021

Once the plane was on the ground, Belarus authorities arrested an opposition journalist.

Belarus' interception of a commercial flight Sunday in order to arrest Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old Lithuania-based dissident blogger has triggered global outrage and condemnation.

The EU has already hit Belarus with a sweeping travel ban, blocking access to its airspace and urging European airlines to avoid the country.

Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat written in the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Mantas was speaking to Reuters after a day-long ordeal that began in Athens and finally ended late in the evening in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, after a stopover of more than seven hours in Minsk.

Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Air France, LOT and Singapore Airlines were among carriers that announced they would stop flying over Belarus.

He said: "This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking... state-sponsored piracy".

During Lukashenko's crackdown on dissent since last August's presidential election, almost all opposition figures have been driven into exile or jailed, many on charges of organizing demonstrations, which the government describes as terrorism.

NEXTA, a news service where Protasevich worked before setting up his own widely followed blog, ran an interview with his mother, who said that as soon as she heard reports of a bomb scare on a flight, she knew it was a plot to capture him.

Mr O'Leary said his airline will take guidance from European authorities about whether that should happen.

He said the government was "absolutely right" to impose the new rules on flights and asked: "Will he also go one step further and will he call for a suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the Yamal energy pipeline that flows through Belarus which is where the money comes from that supports this tyrannous regime?"

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused President Lukashenko's government of endangering the lives of those on board the aircraft and demanded a "full investigation".

Simon Coveney, foreign minister of Ireland, said: "This was effectively aviation piracy, state-sponsored", and claimed that inaction from the European Union would be seen as weakness. "The United States stands with the people of Belarus", he tweeted.

The EU, along with the United States, Britain and Canada had already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on nearly 90 Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election that opponents and the West say was a sham.

The Ryanair incident has sparked a strong backlash among the global community, with Western countries calling for an worldwide probe into the emergency landing and considering the closure of the Belarusian airspace, along with introducing new sanctions against Minsk.

"And I think that the incident has to be thoroughly investigated by the worldwide aviation authorities".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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