Belarus‘ State Terrorism: EU Slams Dictator Lukashenko for Ryanair ‚Hijacking‘ to Arrest a Journalist

Written by | Monday, May 24th, 2021

Belarus’ “Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned” and the opposition blogger it snatched must be freed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said. Her unusually strident remarks came after Belarus President Aleksander Lukashenko shocked Europe on Sunday (23 May) by dispatching a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet to force a Ryanair passenger flight FR4978 flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying more than 140 people to make an emergency landing in Belarus instead. The European Union, the United States and the United Nations have condemned Belarus for what some EU leaders described as a “hijacking” that led to the arrest of a Belarusian journalist and activist Roman Pratasevich.
European leaders are to discuss the situation at a meeting today (24 May), von der Leyen said, warning that “the outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences.” Lukashenko personally ordered the MiG-29 fighter jet to accompany the Ryanair plane to the Minsk airport, the Belarusian presidential press service said and added that a bomb threat was received but no explosives were found on board. The Belarusian Interior Ministry said Roman Protasevich was arrested at the airport. Pratasevich is a founder of Telegram messaging app’s Nexta channel in Belarus that has been a key information conduit for opponents of Belarus’ authoritarian president and which was last year declared as “extremist” after it was used to help organize large protests against the dictator. The journalist, who had fled the country for Poland, faces charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Lithuania, which called for the special meeting of the European Council to discuss the incident, said Belarus had effectively held EU citizens hostage by diverting the plane. “The entire EU has been brutally attacked and must respond in the strictest way,” its foreign ministry said. It called on the 27-country bloc to consider issuing a joint EU recommendation to avoid entering Belarus airspace and to demand the International Civil Aviation Authority strip the country of its membership. UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab said his country is “coordinating with our allies,” adding that “this outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications.”

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