Belarus Plane Hijacking has been chastised by Western countries for diverting a plane travelling over its territory to apprehend a Belarusian opposition journalist. The EU’s leaders will meet to determine how they will respond to what the union’s leadership dubbed a “hijacking” and the US State Department labelled a “shocking crime.”
"For a start, we should ban Belavia, the Belarusian national airline, from European airspace"
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) May 24, 2021
Belarus dispatched a fighter jet to force the airliner, which was heading for Lithuania, to land, alleging it had been threatened with a bomb. When the passengers disembarked, police arrived and arrested Roman Protasevich.
The 26-year-old was on board a Ryanair flight departing from Athens, Greece’s capital. The plane was scheduled to land in Vilnius but was still in Belarusian airspace when it was instructed to divert to Minsk, the country’s capital.
Witnesses said the activist was “super-frightened” and warned fellow passengers that he would face the death punishment, which Belarus is the only European country that still does. Belarusian state media reported that President Alexander Lukashenko had personally ordered the move. More than six hours after its scheduled arrival, the jet landed in Vilnius.
Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994 and won a disputed election last August, has cracked down on opposition voices. Many members of the opposition have been detained, while others have fled to exile.
What caused the flight to be diverted?
Shortly before reaching the Lithuanian border, Flight FR4978 turned east to Minsk. The number of passengers on board was estimated to be 171 by Greece and Lithuania. according to a statement from Irish carrier Ryanair, the crew had been “notified by Belarus (Air Traffic Control) of a potential security threat onboard and were advised to divert to the next airport, Minsk,”.
However, Tadeusz Giczan, the editor of Nexta, the media outlet where MrProtasevich formerly worked, claimed that KGB agents had boarded the plane and were the source of the bomb threat.
MrProtasevich’s friend and collaborator Frank Viacorka told BBC Radio 4’s Today that the journalist “already felt something nasty” in Athens airport after seeing that someone was following him.
As the situation developed, other passengers reported seeing MrProtasevich appearing nervous.”All he did was turn to people and say he was facing the death punishment,” Monika Simkiene told AFP.
Another passenger told the Reuters news agency that after being informed of the diversion, MrProtasevich opened an overhead locker, brought out a laptop and a phone, and handed them to a female friend.MrViacorka stated that the lady, who was MrProtasevich’s girlfriend and was arrested with him, was “not engaged in anything at all,” but that “they will be chasing her since she is a close person to him.” Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen, is her name.
On Monday, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told Irish Newstalk radio, “This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking… state-sponsored piracy.”It appears the authorities’ purpose was to detain a journalist and his travel companion… we believe several KGB spies were also offloaded at the airport,” Mr O’Leary added.
What will the West’s response be against Belarus Plane Hijacking?
“The unacceptable and illegal behaviour… will have consequences,” warned European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. President GitanasNauseda of Lithuania has pushed the EU to reimpose new economic measures. He told the BBC that this “may have a bigger impact on the Belarusian regime’s behaviour.”
According to Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney actions, not words, and sanctions with “a genuine edge,”, are required. He told state television RTE that “we cannot let this tragedy pass based on warnings or powerful press announcements.”
MrProtasevich was detained “based on a hoax,” according to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who appealed for his immediate release.