Brussels 24.05.2021 Belarus: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 to Minsk on 23 May 2021:
“On 23 May, the Belarusian authorities, in an inadmissible step, forced a civilian plane to perform an emergency landing in Minsk. The plane, owned by an EU company, flying between two EU capitals and carrying more than 100 passengers, was forced to land by a Belarusian military aircraft.
“One of the flight passengers, Mr Raman Pratasevich, an independent journalist from Belarus, was retained by the Belarusian authorities and prevented from boarding the plane at the Minsk airport to its original destination. This is yet another blatant attempt by the Belarusian authorities to silence all opposition voices.
“We call for the immediate release of Mr Pratasevich.
“In carrying out this coercive act, the Belarusian authorities have jeopardised the safety of passengers and crew. An international investigation into this incident must be carried out to ascertain any breach of international aviation rules.
“This situation will be raised at the upcoming meeting of the European Council. The EU will consider the consequences of this action, including taking measures against those responsible”.
Opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, was traveling by commercial airline from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, when the Belarusian air force landing by a fighter jet MiG29. The flight, on Irish airline Ryanair, was diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the millennial opposition figure was taken into custody.
Protasevich is a co-founder and a former editor of the NEXTA online channel on the social media platform Telegram, which has become a popular communication medium for Lukashenko’s opponents to share information and organise demonstrations against the government.
The journalist fled the Belarus in 2019, fearing arrest, and imprisonment, but he has continued to criticise Lukashenko’s regime while living in exile in Lithuania, so much so that he was charged in absentia with public disorder and social hatred in November last year.
As a teenager, Protasevich became a dissident, first drawing scrutiny from law enforcement. He was expelled from a prestigious school for participating in a protest rally in 2011 and later was expelled from the journalism program of the Minsk State University.
The government’s main security agency in Belarus, called the KGB, placed Protasevich’s name on a list of terrorists. If he is accused and convicted of terrorism, he could face the death penalty.
The charges of inciting public disorder and social hatred carry a punishment of more than 12 years in prison.