A Ryanair flight from Athens to Lithuanian capital Vilnius was diverted while over Belarus airspace on Sunday, and was forced to land in Minsk with the sole purpose of arresting journalist Roman Protasevich, who has been critical of the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The flight map shows the aircraft was about to cross into Lithuanian airspace before suddenly changing direction.
Lithuanian President, Gitanas Nauseda, reacted by tweeting “Unprecedented event! A civilian passenger plane flying to Vilnius was forcibly landed in Minsk. Belarusian political activist & founder of (online information stream) @NEXTA_EN was on the plane. He is arrested. (Belarus) regime is behind the abhorrent action. I demand to free Roman Protasevi(ch) urgently!”
There are conflicting reports on what happened. In one, there was supposedly a call for a suspected bomb on board. In another, coming from NEXTA, Belarus KGB officers, who had boarded the plane in Athens, caused a commotion. NEXTA’s managing director also reported about a fighter directing the civilian airliner into Minsk airport. None of those reports have been confirmed yet.
The Associated Press reported that “(Belarus’) presidential press service said President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered that a MiG-29 fighter jet accompany the Ryanair plane…to the Minsk airport.”
Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement strongly condemning the forced diversion of the Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight to Minsk, Belarus.
“Greece strongly condemns the state hijacking that took place today and resulted in the forced landing of Ryanair FR 4978, which operated the Athens-Vilnius route, in Minsk, Belarus,” the statement reads.
“The plane had a total of 171 passengers on board, 11 of whom are Greek citizens. This act, which endangered the lives of all passengers, is unacceptable.”
Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, also said in a post on Twitter: “The forced landing of a commercial plane to detain a journalist is an unprecedented, shocking act.”
“We demand all passengers’ immediate release. Tomorrow’s #EUCO must address the need to step up pressure on Belarus. Enough is enough,” he continued.
European Council President, Charles Michel, added he was “very concerned” by the reports of a forced landing and called on Belarus authorities “to immediately released the flight and all its passengers.”