Brussels 24.05.2021 European governments accused Belarus of engaging in an act of state terrorism after it forced a commercial jetliner Ryanair to make an emergency landing in Minsk after a purported bomb threat and then arrested an opposition blogger critical of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Raman Pratasevich, a former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, was detained by police after his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted over Belarusian airspace when the Minsk government said Lukashenko ordered his military to scramble a MiG-29 fighter to escort the plane.
“I’m facing the death penalty here,” a trembling Pratasevich was reported to tell a fellow passenger before Belarusian police led him away.
The Minsk government has accused Pratasevich of terrorism and provoking riots after the Nexta channels became one of the main conduits for organizing last year’s anti-Lukashenko protests over election fraud.
Lukashenko won his sixth term in the August election with a claimed 80% of the vote, although many in the country accused him of widespread corruption in the election.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the Irish passenger jet had been hijacked and accused Lukashenko of a “reprehensible act of state terrorism.” Morawiecki said he would demand new sanctions against Belarus at a European Council meeting on Monday.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “We are coordinating with our allies. This outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications.”
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda wrote on Twitter, “Unprecedented event! The regime is behind the abhorrent action. I demand to free Roman Protasevich urgently!”
Pratasevich was flying from Athens to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when the plane was diverted to Minsk.
The head of NATO has joined the leaders of several EU countries in demanding an investigation into the diversion on May 23 of a Lithuanian-bound flight to Minsk, where authorities arrested one of its passengers, opposition activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance was closely monitoring the “forcible landing” of the flight from Athens to Vilnius in Belarus and the reported detention of Pratasevich.
“This is a serious and dangerous incident which requires international investigation. Belarus must ensure safe return of crew and all passengers,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter micro blog.
Ryanair said the flight arrived safely in Vilnius on May 23 after a delay in Minsk of several hours. The Irish airline said earlier that “nothing untoward” had been found after it was notified of a potential security threat on board by Belarus air traffic control and instructed to divert.