The US calls it “forced diversion” and the EU uses “State Hijacking”. Belarus’s Lukashenko regime resembles a successful 1/6 with rogue international behavior, martial law and questionable elections, complete with client relations resembling the Soviet era. The latest is interfering with air transport to arrest a dissident journalist.
RIGA, Latvia — European leaders on Monday were taking steps to cut off air connections with Belarus, barring airlines from flying over the country a day after its leaders forced a commercial jet to land and arrested a dissident journalist.British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps instructed his country’s civilian aviation authority to ask U.K. airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace “to keep passengers safe,” he wrote on Twitter. He said he had suspended permits for Belavia, Belarus’s national carrier, to operate in Britain.Britain joined countries including Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia that have sought to avoid Belarusian airspace after a brazen incident with little international precedent.European Union leaders discussed punishing measures, and investigators were seeking more details about an audacious effort by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to snag the founder of a prominent opposition outlet. The leader sent up a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort a Ryanair flight down to the ground in Minsk, a power play that set a fearsome precedent for journalists and political opponents, who now must fear flying through the airspace of repressive regimes, even if they are moving from one free capital to another.
The Ryanair plane was nearing Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sunday before Belarusian authorities turned it around, made it land in their capital, Minsk, and arrested journalist Roman Protasevich, the founder of an opposition media outlet. He faces at least 12 years in prison.
E.U. promises swift retaliation after Belarus forces airliner to land and detains dissident https://t.co/22VBgs5Pp8
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 24, 2021
"Ryanair must explain why it put Pratasevich in imminent danger and disclose the plane’s manifest. We do not know the names of the KGB agents and whether they are Belarusian or Russian. Open the files, Ryanair," writes @melindaharing in @TheNatlInterest. https://t.co/Bzh3QzvGSf
— Eurasia Center (@ACEurasia) May 24, 2021
UPDATE: Belarus' President Lukashenko has banned journalists from providing live coverage of protests.
Over 33,000 people were arrested at last year's protests after a disputed election gave Lukashenko a 6th term. About 30 journalists in Belarus are in jail, says a rights group. pic.twitter.com/0KYsKJ4Zfv
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 24, 2021
Belarus forced diversion of Ryanair flight ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ say pilots https://t.co/u0mtmMSPBU
— The Independent (@Independent) May 24, 2021
A spokeswoman for the Lithuanian prime minister said the latest information available from Ryanair suggested 126 passengers had departed the Greek capital and 121 were present on arrival in Lithuania.
Earlier comments by Lithuanian officials put the number of passengers at between 123 and 127, plus crew. None of the officials commented on the identity of the passengers who remained in Minsk.
“Ryanair corrected the stated passenger numbers three times to us. The latest correction is that 126 passengers left Athens and 121 landed in Vilnius. This does not include the crew of six,” spokeswoman Rasa Jakilaitiene told Reuters.
Ryanair (RYA.I) boss Michael O’Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said on Monday he believed security agents had been on the flight and had also disembarked in Minsk.
That would mean the operation had effectively been coordinated with spies operating on the ground in Greece.
A Belarusian university in Vilnius said one of its students, Sofia Sapega, 23, who had been travelling with Protasevich, had also been detained in Minsk. The university demanded her release.
The Belarus hijacking belongs alongside Russian assassinations, Saudi Arabia’s brutal murder of Kashoggi, Iranian and Chinese kidnappings and killings of their citizens abroad. Transnational repression is now a part of what modern autocracies do https://t.co/mr3136VFL3
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) May 24, 2021
Free opposition activist and blogger #RamanPratasevich and stop the crackdown on free expression in Belarus.
He was detained after his flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk because of an alleged 'bomb threat.' pic.twitter.com/imV7nwk9yr
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) May 24, 2021