Any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences, tweeted European Commission’s president Ursula van der Leyen after a Ryanair plan on its way from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania was forced to land I Minsk, Belarus so that authorities could arrest a dissident Belarusian journalist.
EU leaders agreed on sanctions in protest against the Belarus action. Airlines based in the EU will avoid Belarus airspace and the ministers started a process to stop the Belarus flag carrier from EU territory. NATO ambassadors were called to an emergency meeting. Countries called for the release of Protasevich.
“This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other countries. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said: “It is dangerous, reckless, and naturally the EU is going to act.”
The plane was diverted and instructed to land in Minsk by Belarusian authorities referring to security measures.
The plane was searched but no security problems were found. Authorities arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and the planed carrying the other passengers was allowed to continue to Vilnius five hours delayed.
The diversion of the plane has raised international protests. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the “outlandish action” would have “serious implications”. Belarus opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile, was among those demanding Mr Protasevich’s release. She said Protasevich, 26, had left Belarus in 2019 and that criminal charges had been filed against him in Belarus.
She said he faced the death penalty in Belarus as he has been categorised as a terrorist.
In a statement, Ryanair said the crew was “notified by Belarus (Air Traffic Control) of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk”.
Ryanair said checks in Minsk found “nothing untoward” and the aircraft was cleared to depart after about five hours on the ground.
“Ryanair has notified the relevant national and European safety and security agencies and we apologise sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay which was outside Ryanair’s control”.
Passenger Protasevich was not mentioned in the statement made by Ryanair.
Belarusian Nexta media’s editor-in-chief, Tadeusz Giczan, tweeted a quote from a passenger on the plane who said that ex-Nexta editor Protasevich had told them who he was once they were on the ground at Minsk. He had said “they’ll execute me here”.
State-owned news agency BelTa said Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko had personally given the order for the plane to land in Minsk following the bomb alert, and that a MiG-29 fighter jet had been despatched to accompany the Ryanair plane, the BBC reported.