A Belarusian journalist was arrested after his flight from Athens was diverted. Reports conflict with the reason for the diversion.
Belarusian Journalist Opposed Government
Telegram channel, Nexta, is an independent new media outlet that had disputed election results in the closely controlled country of Belarus. Most of the news in the country is performed by state media, Nexta was a rare independent news agency. Despite official “press freedom”, Alexander Lukashenko had tightened controls around media outlets in August 2020 forcing Nexta to pursue the encrypted messaging platform, Telegram, as its outlet.
Roman Protasevich was a journalist for Nexta (he’s been referred to as a collaborator) reporting stories for the Independent media agency.
En route from Athens to Vilnius, a RyanAir flight carrying Protasevich was accompanied by a Mig29 fighter jet and safely landed in Minsk. Reports initially indicated that there was a bomb threat on the aircraft diverting it from its destination. However, since the initial report surfaced, there are other claims that it was simply at the order of Belarusian authorities.
Once the Boeing 737 carrying the Reporters without Borders writer was on the ground, officials boarded the plane and arrested the journalist.
No bomb was found on board.
According to reports in media a Belarus journalist, that was onboard the flight, was arrested after the diversion to Minsk. pic.twitter.com/MQyvXsDExM
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 23, 2021
This is particularly concerning and warrants an investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization. If Belarusian authorities called in a false claim for a bomb on board the aircraft, that’s most certainly an international crime. If there was no bomb threat (some media outlets reported it was an IED which is typically a roadside, proximity explosive similar to a landmine which are not typically used to destroy aircraft) then it would be an egregious violation of international law.
The journalist should never have been arrested. If he was breaking a crime in Belarus, authorities in Greece or Vilnius should have extradited him at the airport. But he was unlikely to have violated the Central Asia country’s law, but rather upset politicians. The act itself amounts to hijacking.
Now that he is back in Belarus it’s only a matter of time before he is herded through a quick trial before he is undoubtedly sentenced to many years in prison or death.
“The EU declared that the imprisonment of opposition figures and protesters contravened human rights laws, and imposed new targeted sanctions on major Belarusian officials and businesspeople.” and “Belarus is participating in the EU’s Eastern Partnership. In October 2015, EU announced it would suspend most of its sanctions against Belarus.Belarus borders three EU member states: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.” – Wikipedia
Europe has a responsibility to ensure that EEC and “Eastern Partnership” nations abide by the principles of the European Union. This cannot stand.
Imagine the terror of being on that RyanAir flight which faced an immediate departure from its travel plans and altitude only to look out the window and find a Russian Mig fighter jet on the wing the whole way down to a destination you don’t know. Then imagine the terror of seeing armed men board the plane (likely forgoing the formality of a luggage inspection) to arrest a fellow passenger. This sort of action should not go unchecked by international authorities, the UN, EU, and world governments should penalize Belarus until the journalist’s release is assured. Even then, without protection and asylum, it would be hard to imagine he will ever spend a night sleeping without one eye open.
What do you think? Was the bomb threat a ploy? What will the global response be?