Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday and then detained an opposition-minded journalist who was on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States.
The Irish airline's CEO is calling it "state-sponsored hijacking." Bryan Wood reports.
Belarus has sparked international outrage by forcing a Ryanair plane to divert to Minsk before arresting an opposition journalist on board.
Belarus grounded the Ryanair passenger plane flying over its airspace on Sunday for what turned out to be false claims of a bomb onboard.
Although the flight was on its way to Lithuania from Greece, Belarusian authorities ordered a military fighter jet to escort it to the capital city of Minsk.
According to local media, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko had personally deployed the warplane.
No explosives were found on board the jet.
Instead, when it reached the ground authorities detained one of the passengers, Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich.
Twenty-six-year-old Protasevich worked for online news service NEXTA last year when it broadcast mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
He’s now wanted on extremism charges and is accused of inciting riots, allegations he denies.
A passenger onboard the aircraft said Protasevich had his head in his hands and was shaking when he realized the flight was diverted to Minsk.
Later, as he was led away, he reportedly remarked, "I'll get the death penalty here." “When it was announced that we're going to land in Minsk, Protasevich stood up to open the luggage door.
He took his luggage and tried to split up his things, like he gave his computer and iPhone to his girlfriend.” After seven hours in Minsk, the flight retook its course and landed in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said Belarus must face consequences.
"It should be noted that such attacks on the opposition have recently become systematic… I am attending the European Council tomorrow, and we will no doubt raise this issue as well.
It's time to stop communicating with the regime just by making declarations.
Concrete measures are needed, capable of changing the behaviour of the Belarusian regime.” Global leaders followed suit in their condemnation, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and head of the EU’s European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who tweeted, "Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned.” Human rights groups say about 35,000 people have been detained in Belarus since August, and more than 1,000 criminal cases have been launched.