Home Breaking News Belarus Diverts Ryanair Jet to Arrest Journalist Roman Protasevich

Belarus Diverts Ryanair Jet to Arrest Journalist Roman Protasevich

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A Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus for several hours on May 23, with activists saying it was done to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich on board.

European nations reacted with outrage, accusing Belarus of “state terrorism”.

Ex-editor of the Nexta group Roman Protasevich was detained before the plane was allowed to resume its flight.

Belarus media said a MiG-29 escorted the jet to Minsk because of a bomb scare but no explosives were found.

The plane finally landed in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, its original destination, at 21:25 local time, more than seven hours after its scheduled arrival.

Arriving passengers said the situation in Minsk had been calm but that they were given no information. One said Roman Protasevich looked “super scared. I looked directly to his eyes and it was very sad”.

There have already been calls for the EU and NATO to intervene.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was beaten by Alexander Lukashenko in last year’s presidential polls widely denounced as rigged, was among those demanding Roman Protasevich’s release.

Since last year’s election, President Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, has cracked down on dissenting voices. Many opposition figures have been arrested or, like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled into exile.

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Flight FR4978 was en route from Athens to Vilnius when it turned east to Minsk shortly before it reached the Lithuanian border. Greece and Lithuania put the number of passengers on board at 171.

In a statement, Ryanair said that the crew were “notified by Belarus (Air Traffic Control) of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk”.

The flight path, visible on the Flightradar24 website, suggests the plane was actually nearer to Vilnius than Minsk when it turned.

Ryanair said checks in Minsk found “nothing untoward” and the aircraft was cleared to depart, leaving Minsk at 20:50 local time.

“Ryanair has notified the relevant national and European safety and security agencies and we apologise sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay which was outside Ryanair’s control,” the statement added.

The Ryanair statement made no mention of Roman Protasevich.

Nexta was the first to break the news of his arrest.

Editor-in-chief Tadeusz Giczan tweeted a quote from a passenger on the plane who said that Roman Protasevich had told them who he was once they were on the ground at Minsk, with him adding “they’ll execute me here”.

Belta, the state-owned news agency in Belarus, said President Lukashenko had personally given the order for the plane to land in Minsk following the bomb alert, and approved despatching the MiG-29 fighter jet.