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Belarus forces commercial flight to land so that dissident can be arrested

Monday, May 24th 2021 - 09:10 UTC
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Belarusian leader Lukashenko was admittedly behind the operation Belarusian leader Lukashenko was admittedly behind the operation

The Government of Belarus Sunday forced a Ryanair Boeing 737 en route from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lituania which was flying over their territory to land and make the arrest of 26-year-old dissident journalist Roman Protasevich possible.

Protasevich, journalist and founder of the Nexta news channel, on Telegram, was among the passengers bound for the Lithuanian capital when a Mig-29 fighter jet from the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko plus a bomb threat led the pilots to land at Minsk airport where the arrest took place.

The journalist has been accused of being involved “in terrorist activities“ and could be sentenced to 15 years in prison, it was reported.

The Belarusian presidency confirmed that it was an order from Lukashenko, according to the official Belta press agency.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, who last year faced Lukashenko in the fraudulent presidential elections in August that sparked months of protests, accused the regime of having organized an operation to detain 26-year-old Protasevich.

“No one can any longer be sure when it flies over Belarus. An international reaction is imposed!”, she said as she demanded an investigation from the International Civil Aviation Association.

Nexta claimed that the diversion was caused by a fight by Belarusian agents who were on board and said there was a bomb. Later, the Minsk airport announced that the alarm was ”wrong“.

Massive condemnation of European countries, which demand the release of the opponent and warn of ”serious consequences.“

The President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda, called for the involvement of NATO and the EU, accused Belarus of committing ”an odious action“ and demanded the journalist's release.

The EU demanded that Belarus ”all passengers“ on the plane continue to travel. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, left a message on Twitter: “It is totally inadmissible. We hold the Belarusian government responsible for the safety of all passengers”.

The plane landed in Vilnius later on Sunday, but without the Belarusian dissident.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Minsk of practicing ”a criminal act of state terrorism“. And from the UK, his Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, said that Lukashenko's ”extravagant action will have consequences.“

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Sunday that the U.S. ”strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest“ of Roman Protasevic. Blinken said the U.S. ”demands his immediate release.“

”This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens,“ Blinken's statement said. ”Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation.”

Protasevich was one of the founders of Nexta, one of the main sources of news about the demonstrations in Belarus last year. Lukashenko carried out a brutal crackdown on these protests. Some 35,000 people were detained by police, according to human rights organizations. Dozens have been sentenced to jail and, according to official data, more than a thousand criminal cases have been opened.

Demonstrations subsided in winter, but repression continues. Last week 11 workers and journalists from the opposition portal were arrested.

Categories: Politics, International.

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