Belarus journalist and activist arrested after Belarus sends Fighter Jet to force land passenger Ryanair plane
A leading Belarusian opposition activist in exile has been arrested in Belarus after his flight from Athens to Vilnius made an emergency landing in the capital city. Lukashenka’s Air Force forced the landing Ryanair plane in Minsk to arrest journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich. He faces the death penalty in Belarus.
Raman Pratasevich, a vocal critic of President Alexander Lukashenko's regime, was detained at Minsk airport, the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs said on Sunday.
Raman is a Belarusian journalist, photographer, blogger, and activist. He worked as a photographer for the largest Belarusian media, was a fellow of the Vaclav Havel Journalism Program.
In 2019, he left Belarus due to cooperation with Nexta telegram channel, then became its editor. He actively covered the events of the 2020 elections & the subsequent protests.
Security forces started several criminal cases against him, KGB put him on the list of terrorists.
Pratasevich is the founder of the Telegram channel Nexta which was broadly used to organize anti- government protests, and another similar channel critical of the government, both of which are classified as extremist in Belarus.
Pratasevich is also on a government wanted list for terrorism. There are differing reports as to why the budget airline Ryanair plane was forced to land.
The Minsk airport told Russian state media RIA Novosti, that the plane made the emergency landing after an unconfirmed bomb threat.
However a spokesperson for Lithuania airports, told LRT National Radio that it was due to a conflict between a passenger and one of the crew members. Lina Beishene, said the Lithuanian civil aviation authorities have not been informed about a bomb threat.
A leading opposition figure has said the Belarusian regime "forced the landing of the plane in Minsk to arrest journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich."
On Twitter, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Pratasevich faces the death penalty in Belarus. "We demand the immediate release of Raman, an @ICAO (international aviation group) investigation and sanctions against Belarus."
European Union leaders will discuss toughening their sanctions regime against Belarus on Monday at their planned summit, after Minsk diverted a passenger flight and arrested an opposition activist.
European Council president Charles Michel said: "I condemn in the strongest possible terms the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May 2021 and the reported detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Raman Protasevich.
"I call on Belarus authorities to immediately release the detained passenger and to fully guarantee his rights. EU leaders will discuss this unprecedented incident tomorrow during the European Council. The incident will not remain without consequences."
Brussels decided in February to extend until 28 February 2022 the sanctions imposed on President Alexander Lukashenko and regime insiders involved in the crackdown on protests against Belarus' 2020 presidential election.
Earlier this month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that these measures could again be tightened, if EU member states could agree, and on Sunday many reacted with fury to Belarus' decision to divert the jet.
The plane, a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania, has been allowed to continue to Vilnius, but Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich is reported to have been taken off in Minsk and detained.
Monday's EU summit in Brussels was pre-planned, but Michel's spokesman Barend Leyts confirmed that the Belarus question would come up and "that possible sanctions will be discussed at this occasion".
The Foreign Minister of Lithuania said the news of the forced landing was disturbing.
Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted that he is "working with international partners to secure safe passage back to Vilnius for all passengers."