Belarus Military Forces Ryanair Jet Landing as Reporter Arrested

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Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet to force a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk, where authorities detained a journalist on board.

Raman Pratasevich, the former editor-in-chief of the most popular Telegram news channel in Belarus, was arrested at Minsk airport on Sunday after the plane landed, according to the Minsk-based human rights center Viasna, which is not officially registered by the country’s authorities.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova declined to comment.

A Ryanair spokeswoman said in an email the crew was notified by Belarusian authorities of a “potential security threat on board” and diverted to Minsk. The flight was cleared to depart after five hours and is expected to take off at 5 p.m. U.K. time, the airline said.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Twitter the plane was forced to land and Pratasevich was arrested in an “unprecedented event.” He called on NATO and the European Union to react to the threat posed by the Belarusian regime to civil aviation.

The dramatic events come before a two-day meeting of EU leaders in Brussels to discuss Covid-19 and other issues. An official said the Ryanair forced landing would also now be discussed.

The crackdown by the regime in Belarus on the political opposition since last year’s disputed presidential election has led to U.S. and EU sanctions. The grounding risks deepening the international isolation of a country sometimes referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe.

The plane, which was flying over Belarus en route to Lithuania, was escorted to Minsk by a MiG-29 fighter after a bomb threat, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported, citing the Minsk airport’s press service.

There were conflicting reports of the number of people on board. The flight was carrying 171 passengers from 12 countries, including 90 Lithuanians, Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgirytė said at a press conference. Belta reported however there were 123 passengers.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry summoned Belarus’s top representative in the country to demand the immediate release of all passengers and crew, it said in a statement.

The people were undergoing security checks and will remain in the airport’s transit zone until the plane departs, Belta reported, citing airport official Maksim Kiyakov.

Terror List

Pratasevich was placed on aterrorist watch list in November by the Belarusian State Security Committee, known as the KGB. Under Pratasevich, the Nexta-Live Telegram channel covered police brutality at the mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko after his re-election last year.

Source: Bloomberg

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