19 May 2024
Developments in Belarus forcing plane to land and arresting opposition journalists 3

Developments in Belarus forcing plane to land and arresting opposition journalists 3

Roman Protasevich began to feel scared and immediately transferred his belongings to his girlfriend when he realized that the Ryanair plane was diverting to the Belarusian capital Minsk.

Ryanair flight 4978 carrying 171 people departed from Athens, Greece, on the morning of May 23 while descending and preparing to land in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius when the crew announced that they would divert to the Lithuanian capital Minsk.

Data from the flight tracking site FlightRadar24 shows that the plane was about to complete a 2 and a half hour journey when it suddenly turned around just two minutes away from the Belarus-Lithuania border.

Passengers discovered the first unusual sign when the Boeing 737-800 suddenly lowered altitude just 10 minutes before it was scheduled to land in Vilnus.

Flight path of Ryanair plane on May 23.

As soon as he heard the announcement that the plane would land in Minsk, Roman Protasevich, an opposition journalist wanted by Belarus, immediately left his seat and grabbed his luggage, according to passengers on the plane.

`He started to panic and said it was all his fault,` said Monika Simkiene, a Lithuanian passenger on the flight.

After the plane landed, Belarusian authorities searched and arrested Protasevich and his girlfriend.

Grigoryeva said that Belarusian security forces checked their belongings and searched all passengers after putting them in a guarded room.

About 50-60 security officers checked the plane for more than two hours, but did not appear to be in a hurry and found nothing suspicious.

Some passengers mentioned the possibility of refusing to board the plane until Protasevich was released, but decided not to do so out of fear of being arrested.

Ryanair said the flight crew was informed of a `potential security threat on board` while passing through Belarusian airspace and was ordered to divert to Minsk.

Belarusian officials said the decision was made after receiving a warning about the risk of a bomb, but no explosive devices were found on the plane.

The press office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he requested the deployment of MiG-29 fighters to escort the Ryanair plane.

Tadeusz Giczan, a member of Nexta news agency, where Protasevich used to work, said there were Belarusian security officers on the flight.

Lithuanian airport management company spokeswoman Lina Beisine said she received information from Minsk that the flight had to be diverted `because of a conflict between a crew member and passengers`.

Many countries have condemned the actions of Belarusian officials.

EU leaders also called on the bloc’s aircraft to `avoid Belarusian airspace` and agreed to adopt necessary measures to ban Belarusian airlines from flying through EU airspace as well as accessing EU airports, dealing a strong blow.

Developments in Belarus forcing plane to land and arresting opposition journalists

Sniffer dogs check luggage after the Ryanair plane landed in Minsk on May 23.

US President Joe Biden strongly condemned Belarus’s arrest of opposition journalist Protasevich, calling it `a disregard for international practices`.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile said the actions of the Belarusian government were `unprecedented` and `unbelievable`.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Belarus’ arrest of journalist Protasevich should not be `hastily assessed and must be based on available information`.

Protasevich, 26 years old, used to work for Polish news agency Nexta and broadcast many images of protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year via the Telegram application.

Protests in Belarus lasted more than 6 weeks in the middle of last year after Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, announced his re-election with more than 80% of the vote.

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