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Belarus Diverts Ryanair Flight to Minsk to Arrest Dissident Journalist

May 23 – A Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus where Belarusian authorities arrested journalist Roman Protasevich, who was a passenger on the flight. Belarus state media said the plane was diverted to Minsk due to a bomb scare. However this was just a ruse to ground the plane. Aleksandr Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the Ryanair plane to Minsk airport, his press service said. The move has been condemned by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and prominent European and UK officials. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Twitter: “The outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences. Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned.” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda called the incident a “state-sponsored act of terror.”

Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, left the country in 2019 and has been living in exile in Lithuania, covering the events of the disputed 2020 Belarus presidential election through his Telegram Channel Nexta. Criminal charges were filed against him in Belarus in connection with his journalistic activities. Telegram channels have become especially popular in Belarus as an alternative source of news during protests against government repression. Nexta played a key role for the Belarus protestors and opposition during the election and has continued to do so in its aftermath, particularly with the government imposing news blackouts.

On the same day, Ukrainian NGOs Euromaidan SOS, Free Belarus Center, and Vostok SOS, organized a meeting to support Roman Protasevich and demand his release. On May 26, the Independent Media Council in Ukraine published a statement in solidarity with Protasevich with a raft of recommendations to governments, NATO, intergovernmental organizations and non-profits on achieving his release and providing support more broadly for victims of oppression by the Belarus regime. The statement was supported by a large number of Ukrainian NGOs, including the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, Detector Media, Internews Ukraine, the Institute of Mass Information, the Suspilnist Foundation, the Institute for Regional Press Development, the Center for Innovations Development, the Human Rights Platform, VoxCheck and others.

More on Detector Media in Ukrainian.

Photo: Ben Neale on Unsplash