A Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus following a ‘bogus bomb threat’ that was allegedly used as a ploy to arrest a prominent journalist.
The airliner full of tourists made an emergency landing at Minsk Airport today after being escorted by a MiG-29 fighter jet amid reports of a bomb on board.
The plane had been travelling from Athens in Greece to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
Once the plane had landed, Roman Protasevich, 26, a critic and opponent of the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko, who was on board, was detained.
A Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus following a ‘bogus bomb threat’ that was allegedly used as a ploy to arrest an opposition activist Roman Protasevich (pictured)
The airliner full of tourists made an emergency landing at Minsk Airport today after being escorted by a MiG-29 fighter jet amid reports of a bomb on board
Opposition leaders have slammed the incident, saying the plane was forced to land in Minsk as a pretext to detain Protasevich, the founder of Polish-based NEXTA, an opposition news outlet.
Reports say Protasevich’s activism has led to him being included on a terror list, for which he could face the death penalty.
An official Belarus Telegram channel claimed they saved Europe from a terrorist incident in bringing down the Ryanair plane bound for the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
The Belarus defence ministry confirmed the detention of Protasevich, who had been living in exile.
Human rights centre Vesna also said: ‘Roman Protasevich was detained. He was on the Ryanair flight Athens-Vilnius.’
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, widely seen to have won last year’s presidential election against Lukashenko before being forced into exile, said: ‘It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain the activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.
NEXTA, Protasevich’s outlet, was closely involved in reporting a wave of opposition protests that last year threatened to topple Lukashenko, before he was given backing by Vladimir Putin
‘The regime endangered the safety of passengers on board and all civil aviation for the sake of reprisals against a man who was the editor of the largest Belarusian independent Telegram channels.
‘Only for this he was recognised as a terrorist, and only for this now in Belarus Roman can face the death penalty.’
Belarus is the last country in Europe to use the death penalty.
‘We have already informed the Ryanair office and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, demanding to start an investigation into the incident and take measures up to the exclusion of Belarus from ICAO.’
She warned: ‘From now on, not a single person flying over Belarus can be sure of their safety.
The Belarus authorities claimed its bomb-disposal squad was examining the plane
‘After all, the regime is abusing the rules of air traffic in order to capture those who disagree. ‘
Protasevich had said that at Athens airport a bald Russian-speaking middle-aged man had attempted to film the main page of his passport.
He then turned and left.
NEXTA was closely involved in reporting a wave of opposition protests that last year threatened to topple Lukashenko, before he was given backing by Vladimir Putin
A message being retweeted in Russia read: ‘Detention of Protasevich (NEXTA) is a splendid, beautiful, complicated, (operation) in the best traditions of the Soviet KGB, the work of the Belorussian CHEKA (state security). You are cool!’
NEXTA reported: ‘Protasevich was on board a flight heading from Athens to Vilnius. He faces the death penalty in Belarus.
‘The Lukashists [derogatory term for supporters of embattled President Lukashenko] seized the plane in order to arrest Protasevich,’ the channel said.
The Belarus authorities claimed its bomb-disposal squad was examining the plane.
The official Minsk version said: ‘Belarus defended Europe. Information has been received that the plane has been mined.’
The plane had almost left Belarus air space but was forced to land in Minsk.
‘The situation was immediately reported to the President. Lukashenko gave an unconditional command to turn the plane around and receive it.
‘In this situation, the most important thing is the safety and lives of people.’