Belarus forced a Ryanair flight carrying a wanted opposition activist to land in the capital Minsk on May 23, top world leaders called it a “hijacking” and an “act of state terrorism”.
The Ryanair flight was passing through Belarus’ airspace while travelling from Athens to Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius when it was diverted to Minsk for an emergency landing because of the phony bomb threat. A Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet was sent to intercept the plane and escorted it to the airport. On the ground, security agents arrested Roman Protasevich, founder of the social media news channel NEXTA, which played a crucial role in the protests last summer.
When the flight finally landed in Vilnius several hours after the scheduled time of arrival, without Protasevich. The passengers described seeing the activist looking nervous as the flight was diverted to Belarus.
The move triggered European countries, which have accused Lukashenko of forcing down a European airliner as part of a pre-planned operation to seize Protasevich.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called it “utterly unacceptable” and warned that those responsible must be sanctioned.
“The outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences. Those responsible for the #Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned. Journalist Roman Protasevich must be released immediately,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter, saying a meeting of EU foreign ministers on May 24 would discuss what actions to take.