Belarus Forces Ryanair Plane to Land in Minsk to Arrest Journalist

Belarus has forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk by citing a ‘bomb threat’ in order to arrest an opposition journalist on board.

Ryanair

Ryanair flight FR4978 was on its way from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania when the crew was informed of a possible bomb threat by Belarussian air traffic control (ATC).

Despite being closer to tits destination of Vilnius than to Minsk, Belarussian ATC ordered the Ryanair Boeing 737-800 to land at Minsk Airport.

According to reports, MiG fighter aircraft were even scrambled to block the Ryanair plane from reaching Lithuanian airspace and to force it to land in Minsk.

flight diversion
Just before reaching Lithuanian airspace, the Ryanair Boeing 737-800 was forced to divert to Minsk. ©Flightradar24

Arrest

Upon landing at Minsk Airport, the Belorussian authorities arrested one of the passengers on board the flight: Roman Protasevich.

Protasevich was the editor of Belarus’ largest Telegram channel called ‘Nexta’, which played a vital role in organising protests against Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko after he won an election which were widely condemned as fraudulent and held under repressive conditions.

Lukashenko had put Protasevich on a “terrorist watch-list” and declared his Telegram channel as “extremist materials” in a crackdown on opposition forces, social media and the free press.

Protasevich could potentially be given the death penalty by the Belarussian regime being an outspoken opposition figure.

Questions

It obviously seemed that the ‘bomb scare’ was just a ruse in order to arrest Protasevich, which is not only an outrageous, evil act but also a major escalation in what already is an all-out crackdown on free speech in Belarus.

This whole bomb scare and subsequent diversion to Minsk also raises many questions, such as:

– How did the Belarussian authorities know that Protasevich was on board the plane?
– Did the Ryanair captain knew that Protasevich was on board and that he might be arrested upon landing in Minsk?
– Did Protasevich tried to warn the crew after he learned that the plane would be diverted to Minsk?
– What kind of force or forceful language did Belarussian ATC and the scrambled MiGs use to force the Ryanair plane to land?

Pilot’s perspective

From a pilot’s perspective this is of course a tricky situation. It could very well be the case that the pilots never knew that Protasevich was on board and were oblivious about the entire situation.

After all, the primary concern of a pilot is the safety of all passengers on board. Besides, pilots must obey ATC commands at all time.

Even if the pilot might have known that the ‘bomb scare’ was seemingly just a ploy to arrest a passenger on the plane, it would still be tricky to make a dash for Lithuanian airspace as with MiG fighter jets around him the pilot could have endangered all passengers on board.

ryanair boeing 737-800
A Ryanair Boeing 737-800. ©Paliparan

Actions

Of course, this whole situation should not remain without consequences. At the very least, aviation authorities should investigate this matter and speak out against it.

The same also counts for the European Union, which should not tolerate an aircraft operating an intra-EU flight basically being hijacked by an evil regime.

It’s immensely sad to see and hear stories of innocent people being arrested, thrown into jail and even being beaten up and tortured just for speaking their mind. The totalitarian regime even hunts down people wearing red-and-white socks or those who have their homes painted in red and white colours as they symbolise the colours of the opposition flag.

Belarus

Belarus has always been described as the last dictatorship of Europe and its capital Minsk really is some kind of a Soviet open-air museum, having tons of Stalinist architectural relics.

I’ve visited Belarus a couple of times in the last decade, and always had a pleasant stay in the country as the people are wonderful and there are some interesting sights to see.

Even though the country was never democratic nor fully open and free back then, the situation has regressed significantly during the last year.

I can only hope for the situation to improve soon and for Belarussians to regain their freedom.

minsk airport belarus
Minsk Airport. ©Paliparan
minsk belarus victory square
Victory Square, Minsk. ©Paliparan
old town street
A street in the old town of Minsk. ©Paliparan
kfc minsk belarus
A KFC under a huge Soviet relief in Minsk. ©Paliparan

UPDATE:

If true, this makes the whole situation even more bizarre and horrific than it already is…

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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